While watching some Top 14 and Aviva Premiership matches this past weekend I noticed there always seems to be players from outside of Europe plying their trade.

No real surprise there. Be it Pacific Islanders, South Africans, Kiwis, Aussies or Argentinians. But I have to admit I was shocked at the number of players from New Zealand and Australia who only last year were in Super Rugby. The player drain seems to have reached new levels.

It used to be that players would go north at the end of their career, but now they are leaving earlier. Possibly quite a bit earlier. A good example of this change is the Badawi Legacy Scholarship Programme. This is Top 14 club Montpellier launching a unique scholarship programme at Bloemfontein school Grey College (Grey College has produced many Springboks in the modern era).

So this lure to go north is starting even before entering professional rugby in South Africa. The school and club say it is not about taking young players but maybe I am a bit cynical and don’t really buy that answer. Do you?

The world famous Grey College.
By Carla de Villiers – Own work, via Wiki Commons

The contracts and salaries on offer from some clubs in Europe are just too lucrative to pass up. I can’t blame players going for the money. In my profession I want a higher salary, so why do we feel rugby is any different to other professions? Players have a limited professional career and need to take all available opportunities to secure their families’ futures.

My suggestions use South Africa as the model, but the same player drain is happening to all SANZAAR members.

How do we keep our top players?

The goal should not only be to keep the top 40 eligible Springbok players but to also keep the top 160 Super Rugby Players. How do we try to entice some players to stay?

Fran Steyn was an early loss to the player drain.
Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen, via Flickr

I can think of 2 quick ideas but there are so many more possible solutions.

1. Limited duration contracts.

Introduce limited duration contracts similar to the one-year contracts on offer in Japan. The player’s primary contracts are still held in South Africa, but the player has an opportunity to be loaned out to the top clubs who are only responsible for the player’s salary and costs while with the club.

A good example of this is the limited duration deal Rohan Janse van Rensburg has with Sale Sharks for 2018.

This would only work if all the players were centrally contracted with SARU (a conversation for another day). Negotiations with clubs are done at the top level and there is a vested interest in player management and safety.

Not all players or clubs would go for this, but even if we could keep 20% of our players playing domestically it would be a win.

2. Empowering players with careers past rugby.

Not every player will become a coach, or continue in another capacity in rugby after the whistle finally blows on their career.

Helping provide higher education in some capacity could be beneficial. If players have an opportunity to pursue a career after they retire from rugby then the need to chase the money in their twenties diminishes to a certain extent. This also provides a backup in case of a career-threatening injury, which is always a plus.

So the premise could be:

  • SARU would provide for players education and help them further their careers,
  • and the player guarantees to stay and play domestically for a fixed period of time.

The actual costs could be offset by the many Government policies and grants in place to help further education in South Africa.

Other Ideas

Put a monetary value on the cost of developing players through the various rugby academies and add a buy-out clause. If someone wants the player then they pay for the development of the next player to the same level. This is more about keeping the development structures in place and letting players leave when a price is met.

NZ would have loved to have Luke McAlister stay for longer.
Photo: Patrick S., via Flickr

Open Super Rugby to all SANZAAR members. This could enable players to play for any Super Rugby franchise and still be eligible to play for the national team. So instead of players sitting on the bench behind top players, they can try out at other franchises and still get a national call-up.

Have the franchise sponsors increase their contribution if the team makes the playoffs. This may already be in place, but if not, extra payments would help. This extra contribution could go directly to the team and support staff. The extra television exposure would offset this cost.

Conclusion

We can’t compete with the European salaries. Fact. However, if the powers applied their minds there are so many opportunities to keep our talent local.

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Author: Donovan Maidens

I grew up in Durban , South Africa (Shark Country) my family has a long tradition with Rugby at all levels (My Grandfather Dr Jack Sweidan was the Springboks team Dr for 30 years). As a teenager I rebelled against the family and became a Bull’s supporter so I am the only blue jersey in a sea of black at family events.
My dream growing up was to watch the Springbok’s play the All Black at the “House of Pain” this sadly never happened. Now it is to watch Rugby at all the great stadiums around the world.
My beautiful wife Jo-anne and I live in Kleinmond a small fishing village in the Western Cape and are both web developers.

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