The Springboks would not be a top five Test team if they did not pick overseas-based South African players, writes Mark Keohane.
Sir Ian McGeechan’s comments of the Springboks being too reliant on overseas based players surprised me because all the Springboks coach is doing is selecting who he thinks is the best South African to represent the national team.
Saying the Springboks are overly reliant on overseas based players is the equal of saying Brazil’s national soccer team is overly reliant on overseas based players.
It is a nothing argument because in this professional age, where a player is a based should never be a consideration.
In the context of South Africa’s national rugby selection policy, it doesn’t matter where the player is based domestically, but rather whether the player will add value to the strength of the Springboks.
When the South African Rugby Union limited the selection of overseas-based players for the Springboks, the consequences were disastrous. The Boks slumped to seventh in the world and took regular beatings and lost to teams that had never before beaten the Springboks.
With the economic factor of the rand versus foreign currency, there is no way South African Rugby’s franchises and provinces and national set-up could compete with the salary offers from France, England and Japan.
South African players who were offered significantly improved contracts to play for overseas clubs never made themselves unavailable for the Springboks, and when one considers just how many South Africans play domestic rugby abroad, it is quite something that 50 percent of the Test match-day squads in 2021 were local based players.
The word ‘reliant’ is misplaced. It is the equal of saying the All Blacks, in their pomp, were overly reliant on Crusaders players. They simply picked the players who were the best and they happened to be playing for the best team, the Crusaders.
In the current Bok context, all that has happened is that there has been an acknowledgement of the quality of players like Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Lood de Jager and Vincent Koch. With the exception of Kolbe, all of these players were Springboks before they left South Africa.
And in the case of Kolbe, the question was always why he wasn’t a Bok before he headed to France.
Jasper Wiese is the exception in the group of players who had played provincial rugby in South Africa but flourished in the past two seasons at Leicester and got picked because of his impact in the Premiership.
The Springboks are stronger because of the number of South African players abroad. The 2019 World Cup-winning Boks and 2021 Lions Series Winners were a beautiful balance of northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere-based players.
If anything, the Boks have got the balance near perfect between north and south when it comes to South African-based players.
Long may it continue.