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Ken Borland


Jake has a little grouse: SA Rugby should remove the cap

Posted on May 23, 2023 by Ken

Bulls director of rugby Jake White has always been an outspoken commentator on the affairs of the game and he had a little grouse this week at what he sees as an unfair advantage for the European teams he is now competing against in the Champions Cup.

If White were not such a shrewd practitioner of mind games, a master of motivating his players, often saying one thing in public and telling his team the opposite, his comments about South African teams not being able to win the Champions Cup could be seen as really defeatist talk.

White justified his decision to send his second-stringers to England to take on Premiership big guns Exeter Chiefs on Saturday by pointing out that next Friday night, they have a crucial United Rugby Championship match against the Stormers in Cape Town and the travel arrangements made it well-nigh impossible for him to field his best XV in both matches.

White said: “I would like to do well in both competitions, but I am a realist. To win the Champions Cup, on three consecutive weekends you have to beat teams like Toulouse, Leicester Tigers and La Rochelle.

“Do we have the squads in South Africa that can do that away from home, because of the participation agreement? If you believe we do then you are either disconnected from reality or you believe our teams are going to get very lucky.”

The well-travelled World Cup winning coach said the biggest cause of an uneven playing field is the massive financial resources available to the European clubs. According to White, the French and English clubs have budget of around R180 million to pay their players, while SA Rugby has put a cap on our teams’ spending, at only R70 million.

Okay we can accept that the European clubs will always be richer than our teams simply because of the effect our decidedly mediocre economy has on the exchange rate. But perhaps SA Rugby should lift their player cap restrictions, especially with equity partners now having come into the local game.

Apart from the lesser budget available to him, White has also been banging on for some time about the number of South Africans playing overseas, saying the Springboks should only choose locally-based players in order to stop this player drain.

But it was exactly that restriction that plunged Springbok rugby into mediocrity in the previous decade; why do you think one of the first things Rassie Erasmus did when he became national coach was to do away with the locally-based rule he had enforced on Allister Coetzee when acting as director of rugby.

And White also needs to be a realist in accepting that for many players, the massive salaries they can earn overseas are worth taking oneself out of national contention for.

But if SA Rugby decides salary caps are not the correct way to go, that would at least halt some of the player exits.

The good news is that some excellent players have already turned their backs on overseas deals – Eben Etzebeth is one of the biggest global stars, able to command practically any fee, and he is inspiring the Sharks, while Rohan Janse van Rensburg swopped the Sale Sharks for the Durban variety.

Marco van Staden was lured back from Leicester Tigers to play for the Bulls, while Johan Goosen, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Cyle Brink, Jacques du Plessis and Nizaam Carr are all the sort of quality players who really boost the strength of local rugby.

The Stormers have nabbed a player of similarly experienced ilk in Juan de Jongh and the Lions have brought back fellow Springboks Willem Alberts, Jaco Kriel and Ruan Dreyer.

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