World Rugby’s change to international qualification by residency is already having an impact in South Africa with Afrikaans newspaper Rapport reporting that up to 20 top schoolboy players have been recruited to move overseas next year.
The residency rule is set to increase next year from 36 months to 60 months in December 2020 in an effort to add more credibility to the international game but it has already triggered a recruitment drive at younger ages to circumvent the rule.
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Sport24 has identified 19 South African schoolboy stars that have signed deals with overseas clubs, with more in talks to move abroad at such a young age straight out of school. With the FFR cracking down on the number of non-eligible French players allowed in the Top 14, the clubs are importing schoolboys that will likely become eligible for the national side in later years.
South African schoolboys are heading to academies at French Top 14 clubs Montpellier, Toulon, Stade Français and Pau while others are heading to Australia, Japan, Ireland, and England.
Seven of the players are from the country’s top-ranked school Grey College in Bloemfontein while other rugby powerhouses Paarl Boys High, Paarl Gim, and Paul Roos have been similarly raided.
The outcome for South African rugby is far worse than losing the likes of Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk as established Springbok players to Europe, who are still available for the international side.
The very real danger exists that the youth players of South Africa will qualify under the five-year rule for other nations and never become Springboks.
Top 14 clubs setting up academies, instead of buying off-the-shelf pros, is the worst possible scenario for cash-strapped unions that will now struggle to compete against wealthy club owners at the lower end of the recruitment market.
SARU’s changes to the contracting model last year was aimed at securing a wider, more youthful base to retain talent in South Africa instead of becoming laden with top-heavy contracts, which looks like is not going to be easy.
The Season with Hamilton Boys High School 1st XV – Episode 2:
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