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Bok jersey: A tale of two careers

So the new Bok coach has been announced, perhaps a bit late compared to previous announcements, but no surprise.


Toetie (Alistair Coetzee) is a great man with an excellent temperament and he has the pedigree to back it up.

Although the general public might think the announcement came way too late, there has certainly been a hive of activity behind the scenes in preparing and planning for the season ahead.

In case you didn't know, there is a high performance group running the show to ensure that the Bok players walk into a well-planned setup when the time comes.

It's headed by Rassie Erasmus and the likes of Chean Roux, as well as the guys that were contracted to assist Heyneke Meyer.

The biggest question on everyone's lips is whether foreign-based players are going to be eligible to play for the Boks.

Right off the bat the new Springbok coach has made it clear that he will pick the best, according to him, whether based in South Africa or abroad.


Analysing this obsession we have in South Africa with foreign-based players definitely warrants some insight and discussion.Bok jersey: A tale of two careers

There has always been a romantic notion surrounding the Springbok jersey, a mystic power that comes with it.

Anyone that has ever represented the Boks immediately gets elevated to saint-like status.

Whenever the phrase "he played for the Springboks" gets uttered, that particular person immediately commands respect.


When money enters the conversation, the man on the street will quickly jump to the defence of the Green & Gold and utter the phrase: "I would play for the jersey for free!"

True that!! So would every professional rugby player. But, nowhere in the world does anyone that's really good at something, do it for free – unless it's for charity – and rugby ain't no charity.

The very notion that rugby supporters criticize players that "chase the money" is quite ridiculous.

First of all, to be asked to go and play in another country is a massive accomplishment and that alone is a salute to a player's abilities and the high regard that foreign countries have for our local rugby in South Africa.

Not the mention the variable that is our economy. Let's just say the strength of our Rand does not quite equate to the strength of our rugby.

If you had to walk down a street and ask every single person if they would pursue the exact same job/career they are busy with, in another developed country at quadruple the pay, for a short period of time, I doubt that many would decline the offer.

So what is different for rugby players?

In fact, a professional rugby player's career is short-lived compared with the initial effort and time that had to be invested to get to the point where they might make some money. On top of that, once it is over, you are years behind your peers (age group) in terms of starting a business career.

The fact that many players land in financial trouble after retiring is a hard truth, but that is a discussion for another day.

We see quite often players that have played Currie Cup and Super rugby for a few seasons go "looking for greener pastures" overseas.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases this is not a decision the player wanted to make, but rather had been necessitated or forced to do as he fell out of favour with powers-that-be.

In many cases, it's not that the player isn't good enough anymore, but rather stems from a "sickness" in SA rugby some of our veterans have coined the "Danie Craven Syndrome".

Danie Craven Syndrome can be summed up as follows: Provincial coaches in SA are quick to drop older players and bring in young talent when they do not have a successful season. Bringing in younger players allows them the luxury to say that they are "building for the future", thus extending their own coaching career at the expense of the senior players. It also goes hand-in-hand with the fact that SA only has five big franchises and an unbelievable amount of talent coming through. So if there is less than a 20 percent difference between an older and a younger player, the cheaper, younger option will stay on the books. It's after all a business.

Coming back to my earlier point on players having to milk their career as much as possible, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that rugby players are actually just a piece of meat in the end. If it's your time, you get moved on easily.Bok jersey: A tale of two careers

I want to illustrate my point using two players as examples.

During the 2009 end-of-year-tour of Europe, both of these players played against me in a midweek game for the Springboks. On the night, my London-based team, Saracens, was victorious.

Jongi Nokwe became the first player to score four tries against the Wallabies in 2008. He had a Springbok contract and was in the Springbok group until 2010. From 2011 onwards he was excluded from the Springbok setup and it just became a downward spiral culminating in him ending up playing club rugby in 2014, struggling to make a living and having to work a 12 hour day to make ends meet.

Where was the support from SARU for this player? Why was there no administration stepping in and making sure that he had efficient financial planning? The answer is easy – a piece of meat!

Jongi was a great player at the time, but when he wasn't needed anymore he was just cast aside.

If Jongi didn't cling to the hope of getting back into the Springbok setup to save his career, he might have been able to go overseas for a few years and better provide for life after rugby.

In 2009 Ashley Johnson also had the privilege of representing the Boks. Just like Jongi he played at the Free State Cheetahs. In 2012 he moved to Wasps in the UK. A clever move taking into account that the UK Visa regulations had tightened in terms of South Africans playing in the UK.

By 2012 you could only get a working visa for professional rugby if you satisfied the following criteria:

* Representing South Africa in the past 13 months in either one full game or at least three off the bench (as a replacement)

* UK heritage/European passport

* Spousal UK/European passport

Ashley played in the 2011 Tri-Nations thus qualifying for a UK working visa.

In hindsight, it was a brilliant move! Heyneke Meyer replaced Pieter de Villiers, who gave Ashley his Springbok call-up in 2009 and 2011.

If Ashley had stayed in SA, he most probably would not have made Heyneke's squad. He would have then missed his 13-month period to enter the UK. Ashley went from strength to strength at Wasps. He had a few great seasons at flank, and then rejuvenated his career by moving to hooker, making him a rare commodity in Premiership rugby. The move to hooker has definitely extended his playing career and he has played a big role in building Wasps again as Championship contenders. The man will most probably be able to walk away from rugby financially stable courtesy of the British pound from his time spent in the UK.

Now I ask you, which one is better off?

There are many cases like these and I hope I have adequately made my point.

By no means am I bashing the dream of playing for the Boks. The reality is just that not everyone can be a Bok legend like Brian Habana or Schalk Burger and live off this legendary status for the rest of their lives.

I want to leave you with one last thought.

Can you in all honesty say that you would leave out a player like Duane Vermeulen from the Springbok team to face the All Blacks just because he plays in France?

The flip side of the coin is that the Stormers can probably afford to contract three young players for the equivalent Duane's salary, where otherwise these young players might have had to leave in search of employment.

By Ethienne Reynecke



Bok jersey: A tale of two careers* Ethienne Reynecke is a decorated hooker who played for, amongst others, the Lions, Stormers, Saracens, Connacht and Pau – which has seen him feature in 160-odd first-class matches.

Bok jersey: A tale of two careers


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