Japan ‘sabbaticals’ present development dilemma

Is Japanese club rugby the best platform for the supreme talents of players such as RG Snyman? SIMNIKIWE XABANISA poses the question.

The last few months have been kind to Springbok lock RG Snyman. It’s a period during which he became a world champion at the ripe old age of 24, got married to Saskia and went viral on social media practically every time he touched the ball for his club in the Japanese Top League.

The month of January was a particularly profitable one for his YouTube exploits, with Snyman – playing in the colours of Honda Heat – warming to the task of running over would-be defenders like Boris Johnson once did to a 10-year-old kid. As a card-carrying member of the RG Snyman Fan Club I’ve enjoyed the PlayStation-esque spectacle as much as the 2.07m, 120kg freak of nature appears to. But am I the only one wondering why Snyman is not playing any Super Rugby this year?

Snyman was putting so much, ahem, heat on the Springboks’ starting pair of locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager last year, so why would he not want to press that, instead playing rugby that, admittedly, pays well but is essentially out of mind and out of sight? From a layman’s view Snyman didn’t have too much to do to break into the Bok starting XV; maybe a little consistency was due, knowing when to take the ball in or to throw that outrageous offload in the tackle, and possibly deciding if he’s a No 4 or No 5.

Those are the kind of things he could have worked on in Super Rugby, but for the moment he appears to have chosen to take a “gap year”, playing in a competition where practically all the defenders seem to be mere speed bumps. It all looks enjoyable to a player who, despite the caveman appearance, clearly plays with a song in his heart. And in all fairness to Japanese rugby, because it tends to be played at high tempo, it isn’t like the French Top 14, where players tend to return out of condition. But is it great for Snyman’s rugby development?

Some will wonder what the fuss is all about. Snyman is making good and well-deserved money, he’s playing the kind of low-impact rugby that will preserve his body and he’s picking up some Japanese culture along the way. What’s not to like?

The thing about Snyman is he’s a once-in-a-generation player. His size, strength, physicality, temperament, athleticism, speed and jaw-dropping skill make him a Brodie Retallick waiting to happen. The only way to forge him into the kind of player who could challenge for World Player of the Year is by playing tough opposition week in, week out.

He’s not going to do that by sparing himself playing against outgunned opponents in Japan, or from being a permanent fixture on the Springbok bench, regardless of the fact he’s got ‘Bomb Squad’ tattooed on his torso. He is at least taking a step up by moving to Munster

To be fair, Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff did something similar when he went to play for Bordeaux for two years at 23 and it has had no adverse effect on his career prospects. Also, a jaded Fourie du Preez’s Springbok career wouldn’t have had the extra two years that took him to the 2015 Rugby World Cup had the same Japanese club rugby I’m bashing not rejuvenated it.

Maybe I’m being selfish, but it just feels like a waste to not have Snyman playing at the highest level.

*This column originally appeared in the March issue of SA Rugby magazine