It’s tough to remain upbeat about Springbok rugby at present, given the annus horribilis that was 2016.
As we ready ourselves for the June tests against France, there will be no shortage of fans ranting about transformation and the lure of big money overseas as the chief reasons for our woes.
There’s no denying that both play a part, but according to a new study by Rais Frost there are other factors in play, too.
Some background from TimesLive on Frost, who received his MBA from the University of Stellenbosch Business School for his thesis on the subject :
The former koshuis scrumhalf, full-time attorney and sometime game-farm manager did a scientific assessment of why good players were leaving South Africa to play in Europe and Japan – and SA Rugby should listen to him…
Rais did not accept the conventional wisdom. For his MBA thesis he found 18 reasons analysed through player interviews. In the process, 12 common themes that hold insights and lessons for professional rugby in South Africa emerged.
The findings of his are discussed on the Stellenbosch University’s official site:
To find out what these reasons are, he interviewed eight overseas-based players (United Kingdom, France and Japan) with an average age of 34 years. Six were Springboks while one player moved to the United Kingdom (UK) and became eligible to play for his adopted country. Another played Currie Cup and Super Rugby before joining an overseas club.
“Despite the fact that these players frequently mentioned financial remuneration in the interviews, there appeared to be no critical need for exorbitantly high levels of remuneration.”
“In terms of systemic age pressure, players said that in South Africa you are often seen as past your best when you’ve reached the age of 30 years – the so-called 30-year old ceiling.”
“This has a knock-on effect as players decide to leave the country at a younger age because they know once they’ve reached 30, or even approach 30, there won’t be many opportunities left.”
Perhaps we are too quick to discard those on the other side of 30. Some evidence to back up Frost’s thesis from TimesLive again:
Last season the oldest Bok was Bryan Habana at 33 and the only old ones who survived until the end of the year were Adriaan Strauss and Tendai Mtawarira, both 31.
Yet in Europe players in their mid-30s are considered in their prime. At Bordeaux, front-row forward Jean-Bapiste Poux is 37 and the club is hoping to get him back next year. Many of the best tight forwards in France are in their mid-30s and much appreciated. Jannie du Plessis, 34, his brother Bismarck, 32, and Steenkamp, 35, are still valued by their clubs.
The travel topic is worth a closer look, too, as well as the level of competition:
“As far as excessive travel is concerned, the players said that playing in UK and European tournaments means that they are away from home for two nights at most, whereas in South Africa this could be three weeks at any given time. They mentioned that challenging travel schedules have a profoundly negative impact on their families and social lives.”
“Players also highlighted the repetitive nature of the annual SA rugby calendar and said they experience the same tournaments year after year and sought to experience variety and high strength competition.”
Frost says they indicated that the strength of the tournaments and the make-up of overseas club teams are better suited for players to improve themselves as rugby players because there are often an abundance of experienced international players from which other players can learn and be mentored.
If ever you wanted proof that the watered down Super Rugby competition is doing the sport damage, other than the general waning interest and woeful attendances, those jibes about the quality of rugby should do the trick.
We should also touch on the attitude of supporters:
“Another important reason for going overseas is the fact that the severe negativity and criticism of supporters and the media have a detrimental effect on players’ family and social lives. This in turn has a negative effect on players,” Frost adds.
I guess that last one is a bit of a double edged sword, because the more players that remain in South Africa the stronger our national team. That in turn should lead to better showings on the field and thus less criticism, but you can’t blame some players for packing it up and heading overseas.
Having finished his study, what does Frost recommend as the way forward?
He points out that it is important to keep in mind that the reasons players gave for moving abroad are interconnected and no one reason can be identified as a single cause.
As to what can be done to keep players in the country, Frost says that in broad terms, rugby governance and competition structures need an overhaul and perceptions that players 30 and up are too old must also change.
He plans to continue his doctorate “in order to formulate the optimum retention strategy for SA rugby players”, which will include focusing on locally-based players as well.
It’s a tricky one to try and solve but there’s another very worrying trend that will surely have a crippling long-term effect on Springbok rugby.
Pop in HERE and check out how talent scouts are snapping up the best schoolboys players right out of high school, with last year’s Craven Week a prime example.
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