Change the game

RICHARD FERGUSON on how he believes the game of rugby should change.

Tony Blair said: “A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in, and how many want out”, a quote that can easily be taken in context with the current situation in South African rugby.

Every week we learn of another player that is heading to Japan, or even worse, heading to Europe, chasing greener playing pastures where the Yen/Pound/Euro pay cheque is not to be frowned upon. It is in these times that we should look to what is chasing them away instead of focusing on the lure.

It is a simple answer – Super Rugby. Super Rugby has gone from being the best rugby competition in the world to just another competition that players are not too disappointed in if they should miss it. It has become the Currie Cup on a bigger scale.

The length of the competition, coupled with the amount of physical strains endured to face local competition in heated battle is simply breaking our players. We have seen it happen in the past and we will continue to see it, in greater scale, as the seasons continue. But you know this already, it is well documented and I assume we can all agree on this.

So we know what the problem is, yet nobody is doing anything to prevent our players from crossing the border. One can hardly blame the players; this is their profession after all. One can hardly blame Heyneke Meyer for selecting players based across from our borders, again, it is his job to put the best team on the field and win. So who do we blame?

I will leave the blame-game to others; instead, I want to look towards an answer. Let’s face it, Super Rugby will never go back to the old days of Super 12, where each team plays each other once, we have the play-offs and we are done after three months. So the answer does not lie with the competition, it lies with the management of our players.

Many will dispute the sabbatical Richie McCaw has taken from Super Rugby so far this year. But is it not better to retain a player than to lose him to another competition altogether. The focus in South Africa should turn to identifying players like McCaw and putting a plan in place to allow these players to have a few months extra off every so often.

If New Zealand Rugby can allow for McCaw to take six months off, to not only lengthen his career and allow us all to see him play at another World Cup, but to see him play at the best of his abilities because he is not injured for two years at a time, why can we not do the same?
If we can allow Schalk Burger for instance, to sit on the sideline injured for a second year now, why could we not have allowed him a break that would have seen him not injure himself, and probably back playing already? I know that is a simple example, but the real effects of allowing players time off will be beneficial to not only the players, but the competition and the supporters.

This may not be the solution, I accept that it is a bit of a pipe dream, but we need to shift our focus. We are losing players at the rate of knots and nobody is seemingly interested in putting a stop to it. We need South African Rugby to make it worth the while of our players to remain in the country, something that the Rand and the Green and Gold jersey is not doing at this stage.

I read this quote somewhere: “Make the money, don’t let the money make you. Change the game, don’t let the game change you”. I think that is so relevant to the above situation and I can only hope that somewhere someone is changing the game.