At the recent launch of the 2015 Varsity Cup, SARU CEO Jurie Roux spoke of the growing concern of young, talented rugby players being poached by overseas clubs with fat wallets. According to Roux: “What is worrying is the targeting of our younger players – they are grabbing them at Under-20 level, players who we foresee playing for us.”
Cricket is experiencing a similar exodus, although admittedly not on the same scale as rugby and perhaps for slightly different reasons.
However, the fact of the matter is that in South Africa rugby and cricket players are like the gold buried in our soil: There will always be far more than we can use ourselves.
It would be a reasonable assumption that every SA Schools rugby or cricket player would have aspirations to one day play for either the Springboks or Proteas. Yet, since 1940, the overall percentage of SA Schools rugby or cricket players to graduate to full international status is 12.7%. (It is an amazing coincidence that the conversion rate in rugby and cricket is exactly the same!) Conversely, it would be a further reasonable assumption that the aspirations of 87.3% of hopeful young rugby and cricket players would have been crushed (or at least severely dented).
There are no figures to back this up, but if one assumes that around three quarters of the 87,3% progress to franchise/provincial level, it still means that one out of every five rugby or cricket players will not progress beyond SA Schools level. That is a lot of good, young players! Far from being susceptible and vulnerable to Roux’s so-called “grabbing”, for these young hopefuls it would only be natural to seek greener pastures overseas if they realise they will not “make it” in South Africa.
But there is another telling factor in Roux’s remark. Rugby (and cricket) already suffers from a terrible overload. It affects the game negatively in many ways, especially commercially and from a spectator point of view. If Roux views the players leaving as “players who we foresee playing for us”, where will SARU be able to create the playing opportunities for them?
To stop the exodus of young players by creating more playing opportunities is sheer folly. It will simply water down even further your existing competitions. Hardly anyone watches the Vodacom Cup anymore, and spectator numbers at Currie Cup rugby are dwindling at an alarming rate. SARU should accept the fact that rugby players are like gold: South Africa will always have plenty but not enough uses for it ourselves.