WP: We couldn’t have done more

Managing director Rob Wagner says WP Rugby did everything in its power to retain Handré Pollard and that rugby fans need to understand that player movement is a part of professional sport.

The Western Cape rugby community is up in arms about the loss of Pollard. The SA U20 and WP U18 flyhalf will be furthering his career with the Bulls.

Pollard starred for the SA U20 side in the recent Junior World Championship and has already been identified as a potential Springbok by senior South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer. Many rugby fans in the Western Cape are angry that such a promising talent will soon be playing for the Bulls, and feel that WP are to blame for ‘allowing Pollard to slip through the net’.

On Wednesday, Wagner told the media that this was not the case, and that the union did everything it could to keep Pollard in the Cape so that he would one day represent WP and the Stormers.

In the end, the decision to leave was the player’s, and it was a decision WP was forced to accept.

‘WP identified Handré as a talented 12-year-old and from there he went through to our elite teams at U13 and U16 level, and is presently at U18 level,’ said Wagner.

‘We first met with Mr Pollard Snr and Handré in August 2010 to discuss a contract. At that point, Mr Pollard said that Handré still needed to decide whether he would continue with rugby or concentrate on his studies.’

According to Wagner, WP contacted Pollard Snr again in August 2011 to ask about Handré’s decision. It was then confirmed by Pollard Snr that Handré had been offered a contract by the Bulls and Sharks, but that no final decision had been made.

‘In between all of this, we put a lot of time into his coaching and at the end of 2011 he was even invited by Stormers coach Allister Coetzee to join the Super Rugby training group,’ said Wagner.

‘We couldn’t have done anything more to keep him here. As I said, we offered him a contract in 2010, we certainly did not scurry to try and offer him something once it emerged that he had been offered something by the Bulls.’

There is a perception that Western Province doesn’t do enough to retain its young talent. Wagner said the perception was frustrating, and false.

He said that the union can’t afford to keep every youngster it develops and that players will move to other franchises or even overseas if they feel that there are better opportunities to develop or make some money.

He alluded to the players that have most recently left the Stormers and WP for another SA franchise, namely Johann Sadie and JJ Engelbrecht (who are now both at the Bulls). When these players were at the Stormers they were not guaranteed game time ahead of players like Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh, Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon to name a few.

Jaque Fourie left the union at the end of 2011 to take up a lucrative contract in Japan, and Quinn Roux recently joined Irish club Leinster to develop his game. Roux’s move is also due to the fact that he won’t enjoy much game time at the Stormers as there are currently four other players ahead of him in the second-row queue.

‘In a professional era, out of contract players have the freedom of movement,’ said Wagner. ‘The competition for players will go on, players will move, and when they do they will move for many reasons. Finance as well as playing opportunities will factor into their decisions.

‘We’ve seen that CJ Stander [Bulls] will be going to Ireland, Sias Ebersohn [Cheetahs] will be going to the Force, Jaque Fourie has gone to Japan and most recently Quinn Roux signed a deal with Leinster. That’s to name but a few players. It’s not because we or any other union is not trying to keep them. Do you think Free State doesn’t try to keep their players? They probably lose more players than anybody else.

‘The Sharks tried to keep Peter Grant, but he came to us. The Cheetahs tried to keep Joe Pietersen, the Bulls tried to keep Quinn, but they all came to us… players moving to other unions is all part and parcel of the professional era.’

Wagner said that he was proud of WP’s junior structures and facilities, and hoped that the union would continue to produce great young talent. However, he said it’s unrealistic to expect the union to retain every one of their promising youngsters.

‘We have the ability to unearth and nurture top talent, and if you think about this season alone there are already a number of youngsters that have become household names. Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Frans Malherbe… I think we have the highest number of young players who have come through in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

‘In principle, we will always look to home grown talent. We will do our utmost to keep the players developed here, but if we need players in certain positions we will look outside of the region.

‘Talent will be identified. It will be nurtured and it is possible that these players will become big names,’ Wagner said. ‘But players will also be lost to other unions and allowed to go if they wish. It is the nature of professional sport.

‘People must understand that rugby is a professional sport, albeit a young one in that regard. This does happen and is likely to happen again.’

By Jon Cardinelli