I’ve never questioned their commitment to the national team. That said, however, SA Rugby faces the danger of falling into a trap because if you allow one player to go, you must allow them all, and domestic rugby will begin to suffer by the void that is left when this generation has moved on.
When the contract was drawn up for Super Rugby, the agreement was that the best players would be made available from each country to ensure the competition had the biggest names in world rugby.
The Bulls won it two seasons in a row a few years ago, and at the time SA rugby and the Springboks were in a position of strength. The Chiefs have won it since then, and the Reds have won, but South African sides have not. South Africa did not win the last World Cup and now they need to be careful of a possible mass exodus of players.
If the country’s best schoolboy player, for example, goes to Europe and he’s the star of his club in three years’ time, and then he comes back and they pick him, how do they stop the rest of the players going?
Others will say they’ve done it successfully in other sports, with players plying their trades overseas, but rugby is not like soccer, golf or tennis.
I have huge respect for other sports, but you need a certain dynamic when you’re putting a rugby team together. You can’t just arrive on a Thursday night before the game and expect to play well because you won’t have all the skills that are needed in the lineouts and breakdowns.
There is also a danger of losing the middle tier players. If the guys playing Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup see they’re not being selected, and other players who are overseas are being selected, we’ll lose that lot as well.
Doc Craven said professional rugby would kill the sport in South Africa, but the lure of professional leagues has been knocking on the door in this country for a long time. The problem is not unique.
People will say that I let players go, but it’s different if they’re already there and you bring them back. It’s not the same for a coach to let guys go overseas and still select them.
Another problem is sponsors. If someone approaches a Currie Cup team and offers R2-million, they’re going to want to know where the Springbok players are. If those players are not there, that R2-million deal becomes R1-million. Other players are then getting less than they would with a R2-million sponsorship, and they’ll also be attracted by the lure of money overseas.
If that happens, when this generation is gone, there is going to be a massive hole to fill because they’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The Brumbies won the World Club Sevens at Twickenham earlier this month. The Blue Bulls were there, and Western Province, but they did not even reach the quarterfinals.
People will say those teams were under-strength and a lot of their best players were not there, but they lost to clubs like Moscow and San Francisco. We don’t want South African teams losing to sides like that, and that’s the danger SA Rugby faces in the long run.
Jake White coaches the Brumbies and is South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach of 2007.