Kick foreign policy to touch

The fractured relationship between Frans Steyn and Peter de Villiers can be attributed to an archaic ideal that has no place in modern sport.

On Saturday, De Villiers announced the Springbok match 22 to play Wales on 5 June. Steyn was named at fullback, but according to reports, the Racing Metro star may miss the Test altogether, and hasn’t spoken to the Bok coach since leaving for France at the conclusion of the 2009 Tri-Nations.

In a frank interview with SA Rugby magazine earlier in the year, Steyn confirmed the lack of communication between him and De Villiers. A dedicated Bok with an ambition to play 100 Tests for his country, he voiced his frustration when asked about South Africa’s attitude towards foreign-based players.

It’s an issue where Steyn and De Villiers don’t see eye to eye, and despite the player’s wish to feature in the 2011 World Cup squad, it’s looking increasingly unlikely.

De Villiers reiterated his stance in an interview with the Weekend Argus, stating that he doesn’t want to pick South Africans based abroad. De Villiers feels that for these players to be role models, they have to play Super Rugby and expose themselves to the South African public.

Keo.co.za’s information is the foreign policy is not set in stone and that it’s the coach’s prerogative to pick players whether they are based in South Africa or not. Last year, Steyn was released from the Sharks and SA Rugby before the Tri-Nations commenced in July. Essentially, Steyn started five of the six Tests, Tests the Springboks won, as a foreign-based player.

Steyn was later ignored when De Villiers selected his squad to tour Europe. It must be noted that when the Boks were hit by injury later in the tour, De Villiers called up the Ireland-based trio of Jean de Villiers, CJ van der Linde and BJ Botha. The Bok coach explained the move as one of convenience, but again stressed that players should be based in South Africa if they wanted to play in the World Cup.

The home nations, France and Argentina are free to pick players based in other countries, but the Sanzar nations refuse to allow their players to compete in foreign competitions. South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are scared that the relaxing of this rule would witness a mass departure as top players venture abroad to take up lucrative contracts that the southern unions just can’t match.

While an exodus may affect the domestic competitions in these countries and the standard of Super Rugby, it should have no bearing on Test selection. European clubs usually release their top players for Tests, and Racing has already granted Steyn the freedom to fly back to South Africa if the Boks pick him.

In 2008, De Villiers picked John Smit (Clermont), Victor Matfield (Toulon), Percy Montgomery (Perpignan) and Butch James (Bath). The first three completed a move back to South Africa and signed contracts with local unions, while James returned to Bath after the Tri-Nations. Springbok rugby benefited from the return of Smit, Matfield and Montgomery, but lost something with the exclusion of James.

The Bok flyhalf hasn’t been used since, and his re-signing with Bath and the Bok coach’s rigid stance suggest he won’t come into the World Cup reckoning, unless of course, something or somebody gives.

Steyn’s contracted for three seasons at Racing, and is available to the Boks but not to a South African franchise until after the World Cup. Ruan Pienaar could also move to Ulster at the end of 2010, a move that will place his World Cup ambitions in jeopardy.

Last year, Saru Regan Hoskins told this website the foreign policy wasn’t so much a rule as a guideline, and that one or two players based elsewhere could be considered for Test selection. If you need to maintain some sort of control, why not establish a finite number or quota of foreign-based players? This would prevent a mass exodus, but allow top players some opportunity to expand their horizons and earn some Euros.

Professional sportsmen want to represent their country, but they also want to make the most of their gifts in a limited time-frame. De Villiers and the South African administration need to ask themselves why a player can’t be a role model if he is playing at an overseas club, and why exposure in the green and gold is not enough to inspire South Africa’s youth.

If it’s a matter of making an exception to the rule, then by all means make it. Steyn has proved invaluable to the Bok cause after winning the World Cup, beating the British & Irish Lions and capturing the Tri-Nations title. It’s clear that he still has something to offer the Boks, so there’s no logical reason to punish him for playing his domestic rugby in the Top 14.

By Jon Cardinelli