If ever there was an example of why the South African Rugby Union (Saru) needs to scrap the 30-Test rule for foreign-based Springboks, it was last weekend.
Much of the evidence was contained in a thriller between Sale and Northampton in England’s Premiership.
Cobus Reinach, who was a Shark until August, scored a typically opportunistic try from a charge-down for Northampton.
But he went on to be outshone by Faf de Klerk.
The former Lions favourite steered things magnificently for Sale, scoring a superb individual try where he ghosted past three defenders from a scrum.
He also kick a conversion and a penalty.
Reinach and De Klerk, both scrumhalves, can’t play for South Africa because they’ve only played nine and 11 Tests respectively.
They can only be selected if they return to SA.
Meanwhile in Padua, the dominant Springbok pack had a bit of their work undone by the slow service of Ross Cronje.
It’s all been a bit ponderous looking at the Boks’ attacking play at the moment because it seems Cronje – whose form in Super Rugby this year was one of the reasons why De Klerk decided to grow in England – is being excused for his sloppy passing because he’s a reasonable defender.
And let’s rather not discuss why Rudy Paige hasn’t got a look-in despite arguably being the quickest passer in local rugby.
Nonetheless, it’s no secret that South Africa’s depth at scrumhalf is desperately thin.
It’s not going to be getting better within at least the next year.
There was merit to Saru’s gutsy decision to implement the 30-Test rule.
They somehow needed to stop the massive exodus of local players going overseas.
It’s a policy similar to Australia’s and New Zealand, who actually don’t pick any foreign-based players.
However, what South African rugby seemed to forget is that keeping stars here didn’t necessarily make them better.
Yes, it might suggest the rule is only keeping mediocre players in the country but it’s also an indictment on the standard of local coaching.
The brain drain has been felt for quite a number of years now and only the Bulls’ recruitment of John Mitchell can be said to have positively impacted on our rugby knowledge base.
Rassie Erasmus’ return as Saru’s director of rugby is also undeniably positive.
Yet experienced coaches like Jake White, Heyneke Meyer, John Plumtree, Frans Ludeke, Johan Ackermann and Johann van Graan are no longer part of the system.
Given the structural and financial pressures of the game in South Africa, it seems unlikely too that they’ll be back anytime soon.
So how do the Springboks compensate for having to pick from a pool of players who might not (yet) have received top-class coaching?
You welcome the foreigners back.
When De Klerk left, some critics (me included) were sceptical over his ability to adapt to European conditions.
To my pleasant surprise, the little bull-terrier of a scrummie is already looking a more rounded player and is benefiting from England’s knowledge base.
On current form, De Klerk’s a man you’d readily accept back at the Boks.
South African rugby needs to admit that it’s local structures aren’t as strong anymore … and embrace overseas-based players capable of making the Boks top dogs again.