SA Rugby revamps contract model to keep talent in the country

23 February 2019 - 12:15 By Craig Ray‚ Cape Town
South Africa's coach Rassie Erasmus.
South Africa's coach Rassie Erasmus.
Image: REUTERS/Ross Setford

SA Rugby has revamped its entire contracting system in an effort to retain top talent from 2020 onwards‚ especially with a view to the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour.

The sport’s governing body made the announcement on Saturday‚ where they also confirmed the 30-cap eligibility rule would be scrapped.

SA Rugby also made it clear that it would enforce World Rugby’s Regulation 9‚ which stipulates the release of players for international duty in designated windows.

French clubs have notoriously played hardball with players‚ making it known that if they went off to play for the Boks there could be consequences despite the regulation.

SA Rugby‚ by scrapping the 30-cap rule and making it known that they will enforce Regulation 9 have sent a clear message to foreign clubs – ‘sign an SA player if you like‚ but instead of 30 games a year‚ he might only play 15 for you’.

SA Rugby have written to all the major leagues around the world‚ making their position clear.

It could lead to a rethink by foreign clubs in their pursuit of SA talent as SA Rugby turns the existing model upside down.

Under the new model players will be ranked by position – with next generation talent also brought into a significantly widened pool – to 75 players from about 20. Those who are plying their trade in South Africa will receive top-up payments from their provinces – funded by SA Rugby.

The budget for the contracting of players is approximately R130m.

“We have been agonising over how to keep players in the country since the game went professional more than 20 years ago and the bottom line is that the Rand is too weak and the economy of South African rugby too small to compete‚” said Rassie Erasmus‚ Bok coach and Director of Rugby at SA Rugby.

“A South African player can earn more from a two-month contract in Japan than he can if he were to win the World Cup with the Springboks this year. That’s the reality we have to face up to.

“In recent years we have focused on trying to retain a small number of high profile players. But it has been a small group and many of those players end up leaving anyway. Last season those contracted players only appeared for 38 per cent of their available time.

“Once we have done our work‚ the new strategy could see as many as 75 players in Springbok succession planning and being financially rewarded for it.

“We had to disrupt the model.”

Erasmus explained the new strategy also involved direct communication with the overseas contracting clubs.

“We have told the overseas clubs that we will be enforcing Regulation 9 and will be requiring our players for up to 14 weeks of the year. If the clubs don’t like that then they have the option of not signing the player.”

However‚ he said the greatest advantage of the new system was more effective succession planning.

“The only solution that would keep everyone happy would be if we had enough money to pay the players we wanted to keep as much as they wanted to receive – but that’s not the world we live in‚” he said.

“We’ve got to deal with the practical realities and stay focused on our objective‚ which is to field the best available 23 players who really want to play for the Springboks and who are prepared to make sacrifices whether they are playing here or overseas.

“We only have a limited budget to do that‚ but we have many players who have the potential to become Springboks. This way‚ we can give them that message in a practical way.

“They will know that there is a future for them with the Springboks and that they can move up the succession ladder if their play merits it.”