Players chief Damian Hopley believes South Africa have stolen a march on their World Cup rivals by drafting a players’ representative into their management team for the tournament in Japan.
Eugene Henning, the chief executive officer of MyPlayers (the South African players’ representative body), has been added to the Springboks team management until the end of the World Cup in Japan to ensure the squad’s views are taken into account.
Henning will be quizzed about the ground-breaking move later this month at an executive meeting of the International Rugby Players, the umbrella organisation for players’ representative bodies throughout the game.
The Springboks’ initiative comes at a time of increasing concern over the pressures being put on top players and is in stark contrast to the Springboks World Cup preparations in 2003 under Rudolf Straeuli which featured time in the infamous Kamp Staaldraad (Camp Barbed-Wire) where players were ordered to climb into a foxhole naked and sing the national anthem while ice-cold water was poured over their heads.
While South Africa, under current head coach Rassie Erasmus, have embraced calls for player welfare to be given greater importance, England have told RugbyPass they will continue to rely on their established lines of communication while Ireland confirmed they have no plans to follow the Springboks lead.
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England, like many international teams, use a senior group of players to take a sounding on training and playing plans. However, Henning will be able to argue his case at the very heart of the Springbok regime.
Hopley, CEO of the Rugby Players Association (RPA) which looks after English rugby’s professional players, said: “The Springboks decision to involve Eugene is a first for an international team and a very progressive step which has tremendous merit. Throughout the game people are looking at how they can get those one per cents, the small gains that can add up.
“It will be fascinating to see how this plays out at the World Cup. If it is successful I have no doubt other international teams will look at how they can replicate it. The International Rugby Players executive meeting takes place this month and it will be a chance to talk to Eugene about this.
Eugene Henning, the CEO of MyPlayers (the players’ rep body), has been seconded to the Springboks for the 2019 international season, joining the team management until the end of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
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“We [RPA] have had people working with the major England teams in terms of providing an independent sounding board but not specifically to address player welfare. That is a first. We wouldn’t interfere with any squad environment apart from operating in our role as the commercial agents of the England team.
“There is dialogue around Eddie Jones (England head coach), Richard Hill (England team manager) and the Professional Game Board. The general industrial relations in the English game are, we believe, robust enough to resolve anything that cannot be worked out at the coal face.
“This move by the Springboks does have benefits and they are looking at things in a progressive way. There is a feeling that while people talk about player welfare in rugby, a blind eye is turned when it doesn’t suit them.”
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Springboks coach Erasmus, who has driven the idea, said: “The coaches can manage the playing and training workloads, but we need to look after the off-field workload as well. The management of player wellness will be a very important focus area for us this year, and it’s great to have someone with Eugene’s unique insight and experience on board to assist.
“By the time the World Cup kicks off in September in Japan, our players would have been involved in pre-season training, a Vodacom Super Rugby campaign, various Springbok alignment and training camps, played in the Rugby Championship and have a comprehensive World Cup training programme under their belt.
“We also have to take into consideration a host of other important activities that happen in the background, such as medical and conditioning preparation, the various daily planning and preparation sessions, media, PR and commercial engagements.
“On top of that we have to take into account that they actually have their own personal and family affairs to look after at the same time. So Eugene will come onboard to essentially assist the players with their day-to-day task management and to serve as the first point of call on all player-related matters within the Springbok set-up.”
WATCH: Part one of the RugbyPass documentary on what the fans can expect in Japan at the World Cup
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