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A Foreign Affair

Written by Pierre McLeod (pierre_mackie)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks, Super Rugby on 27 Jan 2015 at 10:15
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

After reading an article about rugby professionals leaving their country of birth to play for an adopted country, whether through residency or ancestral lineage, and how it’s diluting the game, I decided to put down some of my own thoughts.

Rugby has become a global brand and a choice of profession for a lot of players worldwide, whether the driving force is to represent your country or the financial gain.

There has always been a steady departure of South Africans leaving our shores to play overseas, but that number has increased over the last few seasons with European and Japanese clubs contracting not only our players but offering the world’s best contracts they can simply not decline.

Personally, I don’t have an issue with players leaving at the end of their careers to make a quick Pound, Euro or Yen before retirement, but those players leaving are becoming ever younger and younger. For many, it is because of lucrative contracts, but for some it is for an opportunity to develop their skill and to play a 70 – 80 minute game as supposed to sitting on the bench for 70 – 80 minutes, and in doing so they get the opportunity to represent their adopted nations at the highest level.

Players that were mentioned were the likes of Bernard Le Roux, Rory Kockott, Scott Spedding and Antonie Claassen.

Le Roux left the Boland Cavaliers to join Racing Metro in 2009, and has made 11 appearences for France since his debut in 2012.

Rory Kockott and Scott Spedding, who both made their debuts for France during the Autumn Internationals, also left South African unions for better opportunities, none of which would have played for the Springboks at the time of their departures.

Kockott, who was never in contention for a Springbok jersey in 2011, left the Lions to join French club Castress Olympique, where he has since become a valuable member of their squad, with 104 caps and 880 points and a dozen man-of-the-match awards. He has since made 3 appearances for France and scored 8 points.

Spedding left the Sharks in 2008 when he joined Brive. In 2012 he joined Bayonne, where he also made his international debut in 2014 and has since played 3 tests.

Antonie Claassen, son of former Springbok captain Wynand Claassen, left the Bulls in 2007 to join CA Brive where he made 128 appearances and scored 55 points. In 2012 he joined fellow countryman Kockott at Castress where he made 41 appearances and scored 25 points. In 2014 he made the move to Racing Metro. Claassen made his international debut in 2013.

Another South African-born French International, Pieter de Villiers, left South Africa to play at Stade Francais in 1994 until retirement in 2008. He made his French debut in 1999 and played 68 test and scored 10 points. De Villiers represented France in two World Cups, a Six Nations and earned a Top 14 medal to go with numerous Brennus Shields.

Other successful players that left at a young age to try and compete at the highest level are the likes of Brad Barritt and Michael Catt.

Catt left Eastern Province in the early 90′s to play for Bath, and later moved to London Irish where he retired in 2010. Catt played 75 tests for England and scored 142 points, he also represented the British and Irish Lions. He won a World Cup with England in 2003, he also became the oldest player, at the age of 36, to ever play in a final when they lost to South Africa in the 2007 World Cup Final.

Former Sharks player, Brad Barritt also comes to mind. After leaving the Sharks at a young age where he played in a Super Rugby Final in 2007 and won the Currie Cup in 2008, he joined Saracens. He made his debut for the England Saxons in 2009 and his international debut in 2012, he was also included in the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

There are also the hopefuls like, CJ Stander who plays at Munster and is eligible to play for Ireland if selected, Josh Strauss who joined Scottish club Glasgow in 2012 will also be eligible to play for Scotland in September, Quin Roux, WP Nel and Danie Poolman.

Then there is that group of players that develop their game overseas, come back and play some of their best rugby.

Former Springbok captain, Bob Skinstad left in 2004 to play a few seasons at Newport Gwent Dragons and Richmond RFC. He returned in 2007 and joined the Sharks for the Super Rugby and later that year won a World Cup medal with the Springboks.

Percy Montgomery is another player that left South Africa half way through his career to spend some time in Europe before returning to South Africa and winning a World Cup medal in 2007.

Stefan Terblanche, former Springbok and Sharks player, returned to South Africa after a stint in Europe only to return and play some of his best rugby in a Sharks jersey. Terblanche had a sweet farewell, at the matured age of 35, when he captained the Sharks and claiming the Currie Cup in the 2010 final against Western Province at Kings Park.

Bottom line, these players are all professionals some of whom have made a successful career in a foreign land, if we can’t recognise or nurture their talent don’t stop them from going and doing what they do best.


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