Restricting Springbok selection to only local-based players won’t limit the exodus. Of the 232 playing abroad, only 12 have been picked for the Springbok tour. That represents five percent.
South Africa’s greatest flyhalf Naas Botha was this country’s first true rugby professional – in terms of earning and in terms of attitude.
Botha, in the amateur era, would play for the Bulls on a Saturday afternoon, get on the last flight out of South Africa and be playing for Rovigo in Italy on a Sunday afternoon.
He didn’t do this every weekend but he did it when the two seasons schedules clashed. Botha was the best-paid rugby player in South Africa and one of the most rewarded in Italy.
Botha and I share one common view about the Springboks and that is the best players should get chosen regardless of where they play their rugby.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is right to pick whom he believes to the best.
It is absolute nonsense to accuse South African players abroad of betrayal or of a lack of loyalty to South African rugby or the Springbok jersey.
Why condemn a player who is maximizing his earning potential in a professional career that rarely has a lifespan in excess of 10 years? Why reward mediocrity by picking an inferior player because he is based locally?
Why punish a player who can earn a three million Euros overseas contract when in this country he is being offered three million rand?
The game is professional and all the mutterings from administrators and a disgruntled rugby public scream of ignorance, petty jealousy and a failure to understand a rugby union professional evolution that has fast become a French and Japanese professional club revolution.
The rugby public, Meyer’s employers and everyone associated with the Springboks wants the team to be the best in the world. Meyer will be judged on his results and if he doesn’t succeed at the 2015 World Cup, he will be fired.
So why can’t he pick the best team, without restriction, in order to achieve on the expectation?
The French Top 14 is a better competition than the Currie Cup and most of the Top 14 teams are on par with those teams in Super Rugby.
The European Cup, English Premiership and Top 14 have different challenges to Super Rugby. All the tournaments are tough, so form in all the tournaments is relevant.
There is this mad obsession among supporters to always want the next youngster and to discard the veteran. It is because we are blessed with so much natural talent, but being young doesn’t always mean being better, especially not in Test rugby.
There is room for both the old and the young in the national equation and Meyer should be tapping the last bit out of his grizzly veterans while at the same time introducing the next generation of players who could be global Springbok icons.
Meyer selected 12 overseas-based players in his Springbok squad of 32. I believe it should have been more.
The difference of opinion in player selection is not the issue, however. It’s the principle that no player should be punished because he happens to be in demand overseas.
I also believe there is no substance to the view that preventing selection to overseas-based players would limit the player exodus.
Meyer picked 12 overseas-based players and all of them have played for the Springboks previously. There are currently 98 registered South Africans in France’s professional league, 67 in England, Scotland and Wales, 34 in Italy, 14 in Ireland, 10 in Australia, 7 in Japan and two in New Zealand. That’s 232 professional South African players abroad. Meyer has picked 12 of them, which represents five percent.
But it is a five percent that makes the Springboks a stronger squad. Not picking the five percent weakens the Boks and certainly wouldn’t have kept the other 220 players in South Africa’s domestic leagues.
It should never be one or the other when it comes to who plays in South Africa and who plays abroad. It has to be about who is the best here and who is the best there and then making a call about who is the best Springbok selection.
There has to be maturity and common sense applied to the process of what constitutes the best Springbok squad. There also has to be perspective.
No rugby administrator, rugby writer, politician or rugby fan has ever lost his job because the Springboks have lost Test matches and the World Cup.
But no Springbok coach has survived a World Cup, win or lose.
Allow Meyer to pick what he believes to be the best Springbok 32 and then judge him on the subsequent results.
Don’t expect his Springboks to be the best but then demand he picks only local players because of the romance of some outdated amateur sporting idealism that playing in South Africa equates to loyalty and playing overseas is befitting of betrayal.