The Springboks would never be the current world champions or the No 1 ranked team in the world without their overseas based superstars. Appreciate their worth, writes Mark Keohane.
A Springboks team, exclusive to South African-based players, would take regular beatings in Test rugby. The Springboks leadership are blessed to have the option of picking so many quality overseas-based players.
Without them, the Boks would not be a top 7 team.
Commercial realities make it impossible to keep the majority of the best players in South Africa. The weak South African rand can’t compete with the strongest global currencies.
South Africans are the most in-demand players for overseas clubs because of their work ethic, their professionalism and in most cases their consistency and on-field delivery.
There are 51 South African-born and raised players participating in the English Premiership, 24 in France’s Top 14, 21 in Japan’s Top League, many in the USA’s Major League and close to 20 regulars in the United Rugby Championship for non-South African teams.
Sales Sharks, as one example, had 10 South African players in their match 23. Benetton regularly start with six and seven South African players. The Saffa lads are everywhere and prospering.
There are also plenty more in the lower divisions. They add value to the global rugby landscape, but primarily they add value to the potency of the Springboks.
I did a little exercise in playing selector and figure that 60 percent of the 2023 Springboks World Cup squad will be players based overseas. It will be a squad that will be among the tournament favourites.
There must be an acceptance about the reality of South Africa’s domestic game. Only a minority will stay in South Africa ahead of playing overseas and only a minority can demand third-party financial intervention to stay in South Africa.
The Springboks must always be made up of the best options, regardless of where they are based.
There is a lot of talent among South Africa’s URC four squads, but right now only a handful would make a Test starting team and when playing selector I struggled to settle on a match day 23 I felt could topple any team in the world. I found myself adding players in who I just don’t think are good enough internationally,
In contrast, when it came to picking an overseas-based 23, it was a case of trying to fit so many into 23 but not being able to. So many outstanding players don’t make that 23, which when combined with the very best of the domestically-based players, showcases the depth currently in South African professional rugby.
Right now, there isn’t a country as blessed with such national squad depth, not New Zealand, not France and not even England.
This is the healthiest South African rugby has been in national squad depth since the game went professional in 1996.
Playing selector, this was my overseas-based thinking: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Jan Serfontein, Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Stef du Toit, Marco van Staden, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Malcolm Marx and Trevor Nyakane. Substitutes: Joseph Dweba/Akker van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Wilco Louw, Franco Mostert, Ruan Ackermann/Jean-Luc du Preez/Dan du Preez/Ryno Elstadt, Cobus Reinarch, Andre Esterhuizen and Elton Jantjies/Tyrone Greene/Dillyn Leyds.
I’d back that squad alone to do damage in any Test match.
Now consider putting that 23 (with some extra options) up against the best of South Africa’s URC team in a match.
Here’s what I settled on from the SA domestic group of players.
Aphelele Fassi, Sibusiso Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Cornal Hendricks, Makazole Mapimpi, Damian Willemse, Herschel Jantjies, Phendulani Buthelezi, Elrich Louw, Siya Kolisi, Marvin Ori, Salmon Moerat, Thomas du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff. Substitutes: Johann Grobbelaar, Lizo Gqoboka, Ox Nche, Ruan Nortje, Evan Roos, Jaden Hendrikse, Frans Steyn, Warrick Gelant.
*Morne Steyn is still the best No 10 in South Africa but he has retired from international rugby. I did not consider him or scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, who is still good enough to play Test rugby as both players are only available for URC and Currie Cup.
I reckon it would be a pretty intense affair but the quality of the overseas-based pack across the starters and finishes gives them a decided edge. I’d back the overseas-based team to beat the local based team by 15 points, but I would also back one heck of a World Cup squad to be picked from those 46 players.
Springbok rugby has never been stronger and the only way it will stay that way is to ensure the best are always eligible for selection, no matter their club colours.
Also on www.keo.co.za