Why Premiership raids will harm the South African game
SPOTLIGHT: Former Springbok assistant coach Alan Solomons believes the arrival of yet more South African players in the Premiership should sound warning bells for the health of the reigning world champion’s domestic product.
When 209cm Cheetahs lock Jean-Pierre du Preez arrives at Sale Sharks he will be the Manchester club’s 11th South African player and the 44th from that country currently on the books of Premiership clubs.
So vast is the number of South African players currently in Europe that the Springboks management are now relying heavily on Dublin-based Felix Jones, one of the Boks assistant coaches, to keep in touch with squad players who will be vying for inclusion in the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions next year.
Leicester and Harlequins have six South Africans each, with Newcastle having four following their recent promotion to the top flight.
The dramatic impact of South African players on Leicester’s squad was seen in last weekend’s opening round 38-15 victory over Gloucester, with No.8 Jasper Wiese putting in a man of the match performance alongside Cyle Brink, Jaco Taute, Kobus van Wyk and Hanro Liebenberg.
“I don’t think it is healthy for a country to be losing that number of players,” Solomons said.
“When players do leave it certainly does affect your domestic competition and South Africa is a breeding ground for good rugby players, but what is important is to have a blend between youth and experience.
“That helps the development of young talent along with playing in strong competitions. Domestically, when there is such an outflow of players, then it affects the game.”
Solomons added there were some plusses as well for South African rugby, as highlighted by the return to Springboks colours of Francois de Klerk whose game markedly improved from operating in the English Premiership.
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The Worcester boss was also adamant that importing South African players didn’t mean stifling local talent if a club’s academy system is operating properly – Worcester have produced current England players Ted Hill and Ollie Lawrence.
Sale, meanwhile, counter the claims that they are merely an overseas version of a South African Super Rugby franchise by highlighting the number of home-grown players in the first-team squad, talent that includes Tom and Ben Curry, Luke and Sam James while there are a number of English-qualified players pushing for recognition from their current academy crop.
Solomons added: “It is about getting the balance right and for us it is about having a core Worcester identity and the core come from our academy, which is fantastic.
“You also have that blend with players from outside, be it South Africa or New Zealand, because that diversity enriches the mix and makes you stronger. We have a good balance with players coming from outside.
“From a [South African] international perspective those players [outside the country] are playing at a high level, like Francois de Klerk and the three du Preez brothers at Sale. With that good level of competition, we have seen how they were able to adjust and we saw that step up at the World Cup in Japan.”