Invest in players, not presidents
20 Feb 2006
Keo, in his Business Day column, writes insight and not hindsight should be the battle cry from within The South African Rugby Union.
Two rounds into the Vodacom Super 14, and no South African team is unbeaten. Equally distressing is that all five South African franchises have already dropped a home match. The play-offs in May seem far away, and so does any prospect of a local presence.
The first fortnight of the expanded Vodacom Super 12 has highlighted the mediocrity in player quality among some of the teams, and it has also stressed the value of the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top 25 players. In a week where South African rugbyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s administration will look after itself for the next two years through the presidential election, our countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top players donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know whether they will ever have the same luxury of knowing they are being looked after.
The custodians of the game, in the guise of provincial and national presidents, are not the lifeblood of the game. The players are. The South African game is poorer when the likes of Victor Matfield and John Smit are absent. Both have missed the first two rounds of Vodacom Super 14 because of injury, but continued administrative apathy and a disregard for their qualities will see the two absent for more than two matches in 2008.
Matfield and Smit, two of the best in the country and two of the best in their respective positions in the world, are top of the French club buyersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ list. Both have been offered huge amounts to continue their careers in France at the end of next year.
Super-rich clubs Toulouse and Stade Francais have made Matfield offers that will be hard to reject. The club money men have written a blank cheque for Matfield. All that can keep the big Bulls lock in Pretoria is the comfort that he will be looked after in the next five years.
And being looked after has a broader context than just cash.
SmitÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attentions have been sought out by equally insistent agents who are talking astronomical fees relative to the South African market.
South African rugby cannot compete with the figures being bandied about. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the bad news. The good news is that if those who determine contracts are prepared to listen to these players they wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to. These players donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just want to take the foreign cash and run. They actually want the familiarity of home and a blue, black, white and green jersey.
The players want the acknowledgement that they are viewed as being in the top 10, 15 or 25 in the country and they also want to be treated with the respect that comes with this status.
Currently, no player in this country gets that kind of respect. Every nationally contracted player, from the captain down to the lowest annual retainer, is unsure of life after the next World Cup. Bok coach Jake White conquered a beast to actually get certain guarantees for his players in the build-up to the 2007 World Cup, but doing this does not put SA ahead of the pack; it merely keeps it within touching distance.
To be ahead of the pack, the thinking has to be a bit more creative. Smit, Matfield and the other significant players who form the nucleus of the Springbok team have to be contracted until after the British and Irish Lions tour in 2009.
The Lions, following the debacle of New Zealand a year ago, is a concept that is under pressure. A series victory in SA will resurrect the roar of the LionsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ lobbyists.
It is going to be a demanding series. To beat the Lions in 2009 SA need their best players.
An action plan must be in place now to avoid the post 2007 World Cup pilgrimage to European clubs.
The 2007 World Cup should not be seen as an international end for our top players. There is much to do after the World Cup, and the games thinkers have to reflect that attitude in their decision making.
Insight and not hindsight should be the battle cry from within The South African Rugby Union. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve yet to hear it, and that is far more depressing and distressing than the fact that by week two of the Vodacom Super 14 every South African franchise has already lost at home.