Terblanche column: Looking after the little guys

SA Rugby needs a new business model to benefit the big franchises and the smaller unions, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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Ever since I can remember, the so-called smaller rugby unions and franchises across South Africa have produced some of the best rugby talent on display. Not only to the South African rugby public but to the world.

If we delve into the deeper roots and as to where many of these top players originally come from, we would all be quite frankly blown away, by the rugby talent from the ‘platteland’.

Before the professional era, the likes of Griquas and Border managed to win the Currie Cup on more than one occasion and it shows that South Africa had a serious wealth of talent not only concentrated around the bigger cities.

Another fact to back up this argument, and we will delve deeper into this shortly, is the number of rugby-playing high schools that produced well over a thousand Springboks up to date. One would immediately say that my argument holds no water and that only a few schools produced these Boks and that’s absolutely correct.

But if we look as to where their Boks originally come from and take their high school years out of the equation, you will find a very strong representation from the smaller towns and smaller unions. For years we have been battling to find a business model that makes it sustainable for the ‘smaller’ rugby unions and every year we come to same conclusion: there is none.

Smaller rugby unions in South Africa are kept alive, and are barely surviving, by the money they get from SA Rugby. Yet for many years now the smaller unions have had the same voting power at SA Rugby as the biggest unions, meaning that they will receive money from SA Rugby wholly disproportionate to the amount of revenue and TV rights they bring to the table.

No one would disagree that the Bulls should receive a much larger amount of money from SA Rugby than, for instance, the Boland Cavaliers, and this is not rocket science or me having a go at the Cavaliers. I owe Boland a lot in the development of my rugby career and will be forever indebted to them. I also played, Craven Week for the SWD Eagles so I am country boy, no doubt.

I would just very much like to see a business model and system in place where these smaller unions first accept that they should not receive the monies they do from SA Rugby, and secondly accept that they should be the heart and soul of developing players.

For this they should have the first right to have access to these amateur players and give them an opportunity to play in a televised second-division competition and that could be used for the ‘big five’ to shop as they like.

A transfer fee or development fee should be paid to these unions for every player they ‘sell’ and SA Rugby should incentivise these unions financially to do so. With this model we will see many more players playing rugby after school and we will also see many more late bloomers get an opportunity to play professional rugby.

With this model you get the smaller unions having their own competitive competition that’s fair and competed at the same level, and you also give them an opportunity to make their own money. If a union like Boland or Border, for instance, can’t survive with all the natural talent talent running around at school level in these unions, some serious questions should be asked.

Most smaller unions will never be able to compete against the big five or six consistently, and that’s a fact, but this model could completely change the face of the ever-struggling unions, provide more money for the bigger franchises and more opportunities for the smaller unions.