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Springboks radically change their tune: 'The nice thing is our old dogs, our big dogs got better offers overseas'

By Liam Heagney

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It has been a common refrain for years, South African rugby officials bemoaning the loss of numerous Springboks to the lure of clubs overseas where the remuneration is considerably more than the rand, but the irony heading into this year’s Lions tour is that World Cup-winning director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has admitted he is suddenly feeling very fortunate so many of his leading players are not based at home.


With the pandemic having restricted the South African franchises to a never-ending series of repeat local matches, it has become quite an advantage that a considerable list containing star names such as Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe, Eben Etzebeth and Handre Pollard play their club rugby elsewhere. 

Kolbe, for instance, was crowned a Heineken Champions Cup winners last weekend with Toulouse, Pollard became a Challenge Cup champion for Montpellier while de Klerk is in the thick of Sale’s battle to clinch a Gallagher Premiership title, levels of intense competition currently not replicated in South Africa where the local players are making do with another series of derbies in the much-maligned Rainbow Cup.  

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RugbyPass is sharing unique stories from iconic British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa in proud partnership with The Famous Grouse, the Spirit of Rugby
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RugbyPass is sharing unique stories from iconic British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa in proud partnership with The Famous Grouse, the Spirit of Rugby

Given his reputation as a meticulous planner, Erasmus was asked by RugbyPass on Friday if not having any in-person contact with so many of his Springboks due to the world’s pandemic restrictions had put him at a disadvantage in trying to concoct a winning formula for South Africa against the Lions. 

His response was that it hadn’t and that for once in the history of Springboks rugby it was ironically to their advantage having so many play with overseas clubs and being away from the local scene. “I’ll tell you luckily, luckily me and Jacques (Nienaber, head coach) have been working together since 1992, so that helped a lot,” explained Erasmus ahead of the Springboks squad announcement on June 5.

“We didn’t have the advantage of playing Rugby Championship and those kinds of things and seeing our players in top-class competitions. But I must say the advantage we do have for the first time probably as a result of our currency being weak is our players playing all over the world. We are lucky there are a lot of guys playing at Sale in the Premiership, we are lucky there are a lot of guys playing in Japan and in the Top League, a lot of guys were involved in the Top 14. Damian (de Allende) is doing really well at Munster in PRO14, so the nice thing is our old dogs, our big dogs, our guys that mostly were involved in the World Cup got better offers overseas.


“They are playing consistently and they are playing against the Lions players, not the guys in France but they do play against each other in the European Cup. The nice thing is those guys are in form and on top of their game, and we have got our local boys here playing trials every weekend for a year-and-a-half now. so we know what exactly is going on here in South Africa.

“So in terms of the planning with that, having Felix (Jones) in Dublin and having Andy (Edwards) in London with the overseas-based players has helped. We never saw them face to face but Andy did and Felix went to visit all those guys. Here it’s easy with our local guys, the planning has been normal. And as you (media) guys know the virtual has become the thing. But you are 100 per cent right, not being able to see the reaction when you make a plan or when you make a suggestion, that is definitely missing. You miss that to see, ‘Okay, there is boys buying into what we are saying’.

“It did happen here in South Africa, and Felix and Andy got it for us on that side, but it is definitely a little bit of a drawback (not having face-to-face contact). But I guess Warren (Gatland) has more or less the same complications with him being signed in New Zealand for three years and then moving over and only recently mixing with the (Lions) guys on that side… it hasn’t been that easy to overcome.”


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