• Sharks ‘relieved, happy’ to keep stars

    Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee says the retention of star players such as Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi is testament to the culture being created at the Durban franchise, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    At the conclusion of SA rugby’s 21-day contract exit window, there have been various player movements and rumours on this so-called deadline day.

    READ: Marx among five to leave Lions

    Over the last three weeks it has been an extremely nervy time for the franchises attempting to hang on to some of their most important and high-profile players, who’ve had the option to cancel their current contracts with immediate effect should they have an overseas offer to take.

    There are very few more highly regarded players in world rugby than Mapimpi and Am, who were key to the Springboks’ World Cup success last year.

    READ: D-Day looms for sought-after SA players

    The two close friends were understandably sought-after by overseas clubs, but Coetzee confirmed to SARugbymag.co.za on Friday that both would be remaining at the Sharks.

    ‘This has been quite an emotional and difficult time. What we said to the players is that one way or another they’d be doing nothing wrong. It was not like they asked for it [the escape clause], but it was an option given to them, and then it was up to them as individuals on how to handle it.

    ‘I think they have dealt with it really well, and it was done on a platform of respect. I think it speaks volumes for the culture we’ve established, and how [coach] Sean [Everitt] has been able to get the team really close.’

    Besides Am and Mapimpi committing to the coastal side, other sought-after players such as Curwin Bosch, Aphelele Fassi, Thomas du Toit, JJ van der Merscht and Ruben van Heerden are all set to stay.

    The Sharks’ only departing player at this point is versatile forward Tyler Paul, who has confirmed he would be exercising the exit clause. It’s believed the 25-year-old will be heading to Japan.

    Despite this disappointment, and some question marks over how and when that decision to exit was communicated, the Sharks have otherwise emerged rather unscathed from this ‘transfer day’ of sorts.

    ‘It shows the players’ confidence in what we’re doing,’ Coetzee added. ‘It’s backing up what we’re putting in place, and shows that players can trust us. We’re pretty relieved, but also just very happy that no one else is heading out the door.’

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    Craig Lewis