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South Africans abroad | Premiership vs Japan vs Top 14 XVs

By Ian Cameron
Eben Etzebeth (Photo by REMY GABALDA / AFP) (Photo by REMY GABALDA/AFP via Getty Images)

The victorious Lions series and Rugby World Cup heroics in Japan two years previously have made the Springboks the poster boys for utilising overseas talent.


While Rugby Australia ponder whether to scrap the Giteau Law, most Tier 1 unions still operate some version of a ‘overseas’ selection policy – whether soft or hard – that disincentivizes or straight up prohibits the use by the national team of players pursuing professional rugby careers on foreign shores.

Yet South Africa have gone the other way and it seems to be working for them. The weakness of the South African Rand means SA franchises simply can’t compete with foreign leagues – or at least all but the most modestly financed ones.

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Of South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber’s initial 46-man Springboks squad for the British & Irish Lions series, 23 of their number play their rugby overseas.

Eight of that squad currently ply their trade in the Gallagher Premiership, with another eight in Top 14, five in the Japanese Top League and two in the PRO14.

This compares to the 23 that play their rugby in South Africa, a significant proportion of which have returned to their native lands in the last 12 months.

Of the starting Springboks fifteen for the first and second Tests against the Lions, eight played their rugby outside of South Africa. That rose to nine in the third.


Of course, this is just a fraction of the South Africans that play professional and semi-professional rugby around the globe. Roughly nine percent of the Gallagher Premiership player senior player base is now South African.

Malcolm Marx and Willem Britz (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

There are still significant numbers in France too, though strict JIFF protocols, which limit the number of non-French players that can be fielded by an LNR team, adding to a migration push meaning more South African rugby players will be looking to the UK, Ireland and Japan for a new home.

The scale of the player drain from South Africa is easily illustrated.

Here we pick three ‘South African abroad’ XVs, from the Gallagher Premiership, Japanese professional rugby and the Top 14. What’s remarkable is that in the case of the Prem and Top 14, you can fill either nearly entirely with capped Springboks.


15: Tyrone Green – Harlequins
14: Kobus Van Wyk – Leicester Tigers
13: Rohan Janse Van Rensburg – Sale Sharks
12: Andre Esterhuizen – Harlequins
11: Francois Hougaard – Wasps*
10: Robert Du Preez – Sale Sharks
9: Faf De Klerk – Sale Sharks
8: Jasper Wiese – Leicester Tigers
7: Marco Van Staden – Leicester Tigers
6: Dan du Preez – Sale Sharks
5: Jean-luc Du Preez – Sale Sharks
4: Lood Du Jager – Sale Sharks
3: Vincent Koch – Saracens
2: Akker Van Der Merwe – Sale Sharks
1: Coenie Oosthuizen – Sale Sharks

*Normally a scrumhalf but has started games on the wing for the Springboks and Worcester Warriors

15. Elton Jantjies – Pau
14. Cheslin Kolbe – Toulon
13. Raymond Rhule – La Rochelle
12. Jan Serfontein – Montpellier
11. Dillyn Leyds – La Rochelle
10. Handre Pollard – Montpellier
9. Cobus Reinach – Montpellier
8. Wiaan Liebenberg – La Rochelle
7. Retief Marais – Brive
6. Rynhardt Elstadt – Toulouse
5. Eben Etzebeth – Toulon
4. Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg – Montpellier
3. Cody Thomas – Brive
2. Joseph Dweba – Bordeaux
1. Nemo Roelofse – Stade Francais

15: Willie Le Roux – Toyota Verblitz
14: Sylvian Mahuza – Shining Arcs
13: Jessie Kriel – Canon Eagles
12: Johnny Kotze – Shimizu Blue Sharks
11: Gerhard van den Heever – Kubota Spears
10: Shane Gates – Shining Arcs
9: Ryan Louwrens – Kinetsu Liners
8: Kwagga Smith –  Yamaha Júbilo
7: Kobus van Dyk- Canon Eagles
6: Franco Mostert – Honda Heat
5: Lourens Erasmus – Red Dolphins
4: Ruan Botha – Kubota Spears
3: Dayan van der Westhuizen – Red Dolphins
2: Malcolm Marx – Kubota Spears
1: Matthys Basson – Honda Heat


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Jon 1 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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