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'Stop selecting overseas-based players' Jake White tells Springboks

By Paul Smith
Johan Goosen and Jake White /Getty

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South Africa’s 2007 World Cup winning coach Jake White has called on the Springboks to stop selecting foreign-based players.

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The current holders of the William Webb Ellis trophy reversed their ‘home only’ policy in 2018 after a dire couple of years for their national team.

The decision reaped rewards almost immediately, as a number of high-profile stars including Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux and Francois Louw were permitted to return to the international fold while playing their club rugby in Europe.

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However, in an interview with SA Rugby Mag, the Blue Bulls’ veteran boss has argued that the Springboks should immediately revert to their pre-2018 approach in an effort to stop top talent leaving South African clubs.

“Now is a good time, before the next contracting cycle, for SA Rugby to draw a line on picking players who are contracted to overseas clubs,” White said.

“South Africa are world champions and SA Rugby did something that has worked because, in 2018 when Rassie Erasmus was appointed, the current cycle of Springbok players were all overseas. But we can’t allow that with the next cycle of players.

“South African franchises have basically become academies for overseas clubs. Because the top senior talent is overseas, we play juniors from school who wouldn’t otherwise have been involved in senior rugby, and then when those youngsters are 21 or 22, they’ve got experience under the belt and the overseas clubs sign them and have them for the peak of their careers.

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“We mustn’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg. We’ve got such incredible schoolboy structures in South Africa and our saving grace is that we produce world-class players because we’ve got big schools like Grey Bloem where we’ve got 1,500 boys, and Paarl Gim coached by a former Springbok in Pieter Rossouw.

“The fact that we’ve got WP Nel and Pierre Schoeman playing for Scotland and Paul Willemse playing for France shows how many good players we have.

“It’s debatable whether they would have played for South Africa and so we’re never going to be able to keep everyone in the country.

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“There were South Africans playing overseas when we won the World Cup in 1995 and 2007, but we weren’t encouraging them to leave by saying they can have their cake and eat it.”

“I’ve got no doubt that the current model is working and some would say it’s helluva clever – SA Rugby gets overseas clubs to pay the salaries of the top national players and then they play for South Africa.

“As we’ve seen recently with the Toulon owner’s comments about Eben Etzebeth, the owners are waking up to it. Part of the reason these European clubs sign foreign talent is so they can stay competitive when they lose players to Six Nations call-ups.

“But, wearing my South African hat, how are we going to keep a player like Elrigh Louw in the country by allowing that?

“It says a lot that we are world champions, and Malcolm Marx is seen as one of the best players in the world, but we can’t find a way to have him playing in South Africa in front of a home crowd.”

With the rand extremely weak, big salaries available in European and Japanese leagues have proved irresistible for many. The majority of the Springboks squad is therefore now made up of foreign-based players while two of the Bulls’ current stars, Duane Vermuelen and Trevor Nyakane, have recently signed for Ulster and Racing 92.

The extent to which South African clubs have struggled to deal with multiple high-profile departures has been evident in their disappointing performances in the United Rugby Championship.

However, opponents of the pre-2018 approach point out that the rule preventing South Africa’s head coach from selecting overseas players was in the past largely unsuccessful in keeping players at home.

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