Later today, Rassie Erasmus will be named the new Springbok coach, and the dust will hardly have settled on that announcement before the question of overseas players representing the Boks once again comes to the fore.
Every local rugby fan knows that the exodus of talented players heading overseas continues to gather steam, and you could now pick a few competitive Bok XV’s from players based abroad.
It’s not just the money, because the likes of Bryan Habana have touted the quality of life as a major drawcard.
We’re not alone in seeing talent head for the greener pastures of Europe, with the Wallabies and the All Blacks fighting the same battle.
What has generally set us apart, however, is how early our players are scouted by agents working for clubs abroad. Remember these stats from back in 2016?
Now, in the Telegraph’s exclusive interview with Steve Tew, the New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive, it appears the All Blacks are also under attack:
Tew is accustomed to his high-profile stars being in demand, but told The Daily Telegraph that it was the targeting of school-age players that was setting alarm bells ringing. A development that started in South Africa with foreign scouts attending Craven Week, the country’s main schools tournament, seems to have spread to New Zealand.
“We have been concerned about our player stocks for some time, particularly the French market, but there’s a bit going on in England and Japan as well,” Tew [below right] said. “There’s been more heat than there has ever been.
“Clubs are increasingly talking to agents about players at a much younger age. Unfortunately it is getting younger and younger to a point we are going to have sit down to make sure we are not talking to young men before they are ready to make those type of decisions. It is teenagers, sometimes 15-year-olds, being approached about signing by clubs in both union and league. That’s scary. We have to be very careful.”
Some of those who leave New Zealand shores will end up playing against the All Blacks. In the last round of Six Nations matches, every country had at least one New Zealand born player within their matchday squad.
Imagine being 15 and having a contract with plenty of zeros waved in your face? Tough to turn down, especially when you know how hard one must work in order to nail down a place in what is probably the greatest rugby team ever assembled.
It hurts to say that, but over the past few years the All Blacks have come closer to playing total rugby than any other side in the history of the game.
Although World Rugby’s move to increase the residency qualification period for international players from three to five years has been applauded, it might actually mean that younger players are placed under even greater scrutiny:
“With the five-year eligibility rule coming in that may or may not help,” Tew said. “We may see them target younger players even earlier and try to qualify them for the five years. What we are seeing at the moment is younger players being offered longer contracts. It is an ongoing conundrum without a straightforward solution in a free market. As bad as it is for New Zealand, it is a hell of a lot worse for Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.
“It is a concern to us, but it should also be a concern to those [foreign] unions too because we are seeing foreign players filling up a number of critical positions within teams and leagues. In the long term that cannot be good.”
Given that the All Blacks seem to have around 10 quality players for each position, they’ll probably still emerge relatively unscathed.
The same might not be said for younger players lured overseas too early in their careers, although the full extent of the talent drain will only be known a little further down the line.
You can read the rest of Tew’s interview here.