The loss of South African rugby’s intellectual property is just as damning as the chronic player drain, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
How often do we a judge a player purely on the basis of their one-off performance on a Saturday? Conversely, how much time do we actually take to consider an experienced leader’s contribution on the training ground and when it comes to mentoring younger players?
Some of the inexperienced Springboks on tour would be able to provide some meaningful answers to that after spending time with overseas-based veterans Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw over recent weeks.
Virtually from the moment Vermeulen linked up with the Boks, he could be seen engaging with younger players in the squad, while imparting plenty of wisdom from his 39 Tests and years of playing in France.
It was a similar story with Louw, who has received high praise from the Bok coaches for his leadership, knowledge-sharing and off-field contributions since linking up with the group from English club Bath.
Unfortunately, these players are now set to rejoin their respective overseas clubs as Saturday’s Test against Wales falls outside of the international season.
Until the next Test window rolls around, their leadership and knowledge will be effectively lost to South African rugby. As captain of Toulon, Vermeulen will spend time mentoring young French players and a number of overseas stars at his powerhouse club. Indeed, Louw is just as highly regarded for this influence at Bath.
And on it goes. So, besides solely lamenting the loss of talent as more than 300 South Africans continue to play professional rugby overseas, shouldn’t we also acknowledge just how much immense intellectual property SA rugby is missing out on?
It’s a sad reality that youngsters from other countries are lapping up the knowledge and experience of Bok veterans such as Bryan Habana, Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Flip van der Merwe, Frans Steyn and Jannie du Plessis.
In fact, I’d use the Du Plessis brothers as a prime example. I can’t think of many other players who were quite so passionate about the local game, and indeed the Durban-based Sharks, where they loyally plied their trade for several years.
Various off-field factors played a part in their eventual departure from the Sharks, but make no mistake, there was a clear element of reluctance when they eventually had little option but to accept an offer from Montpellier.
On numerous occasions prior to their departure, I’d witnessed first-hand how Jannie – a supremely intelligent doctor by trade – intensively took time advising his younger counterparts on the dark arts of scrumming.
Similarly, ask fellow French-based hooker Craig Burden who he learned much of his trade from, and I can bet he would single out Bismarck. Failing that: John Smit.
This is the transfer of knowledge that would be of massive benefit to South African rugby and young players at a domestic level, which would then filter up to the national side. Unfortunately, it’s happening less and less due to the proliferation of our players heading overseas.
I shudder to think how many other foreign players have benefited from an immensely astute rugby man such as Habana. Similarly, there would have been an enviable array of wisdom that Fourie du Preez passed down during his final playing days in Japan. As would have Juan Smith in Toulon.
It’s happening with our coaches too. The likes of Jake White, Johan Ackermann, John Plumtree, Alan Solomons, Johann van Graan, Dawie Theron, Frans Ludeke and Dave Wessels are all successfully passing on their expertise overseas.
The fact remains that we are often short-sighted in bidding farewell to players who are prematurely deemed to be too ‘old’, while overlooking the value of certain coaches that are perceived to be replaceable.
Instead, the motivation to curb the player exodus in South Africa should also be significantly driven by the desire to retain the vast rugby intellect that is being lost to foreign shores.