Pieter-Steph du Toit unwittingly found himself as the central figure in the story of South African rugby’s first so-called ‘deadline day’ that offered up plenty of twists and turns, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Let’s start by getting one thing out the way. As of early Saturday morning 16 May (two days after SA rugby’s now well-known, three-week transfer window closed), SARugbymag.co.za received reliable reassurances that it was Du Toit’s absolute intention to remain in South Africa.
This came after Stormers coach John Dobson confirmed to this website on Thursday that the SA and World Rugby Player of the Year had agreed to stay with the Cape franchise until at least the end of the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour.
Yet, it wasn’t all so cut and dried as late developments took place at the conclusion of SA rugby’s exit window allowing for players to cancel their current contracts in favour of overseas deals.
On Friday, rumours did the rounds in rugby circles to suggest Du Toit had in fact opted out of his contract with the Stormers and the natural presumption was that it may mean he could be heading overseas after all, where he has been sought after by more than one club.
It has been difficult to piece it all together, but after sifting through the quagmire, it’s understood Du Toit needs to sign a new contract (with certain amendments) to remain at the Stormers. Ultimately, though, the enduring intention is to stay in South Africa.
This confusion has all come at a time when question marks have been raised about this exit window – with SA rugby the only industry to include such a clause in response to the impact of Covid-19 on the game – and earlier in the week, Dobson hinted there were real doubts about the ethical and enforceable nature of it.
It was a contentious clause that potentially put South Africa’s top ‘marquee’ players at risk. As mentioned in a previous column, ‘silly season’ in rugby has come earlier than usual due to the uncertainty in the game at present, and as a result of this player exit option.
On Friday, the Lions confirmed the departure of four players, which includes World Cup-winning Springbok Malcolm Marx, but are believed to have held on to the services of Bok teammate Elton Jantjies.
Meanwhile, centre Johnny Kotze has exercised the exit clause and left the Vodacom Bulls, but with the arrival of new director of rugby Jake White, they have in fact been on a steady recruitment drive, with former Springboks Gio Aplon and Arno Botha already confirmed to be on their way to Loftus.
At the Sharks, the only confirmed departure has been that of versatile forward Tyler Paul, while the likes of Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am will be staying put despite considerable overseas interest.
For some the suffering has been worse than others, and you can bet Dobson would have been left particularly miffed if a prized asset such as the World Rugby Player of the Year was to have left.
For those involved in trying to talk players into staying – after all no financial counter-offers or negotiations were allowed – the toll it has taken was perhaps best summed up by Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee.
In conversation with Coetzee on Friday, he sounded understandably exhausted, and admitted it felt as if he had gone 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali.
The full fallout from SA rugby’s first ‘deadline day’ surely isn’t over yet.
While any players who head overseas will remain available to the Springboks, the Lions and Stormers have suffered setbacks, and it will inevitably have an impact on the strength of the franchise game. It could have also been a whole lot worse for the Sharks.
It has been a time of risky business as a result of the need to reduce the financial setbacks in the SA rugby industry at all costs.
The full effects of that cost, though, still remain to be seen.