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Let them play rugby

'Qu'ils mangent de la brioche' – let them eat cake, Marie Antoinette famously said, but it is Brent Russell who says 'let them play rugby – in France'


The former Springbok and Sharks man has explored much of what rugby has to offer, starting his rugby career in South Africa before heading to England with Saracens then France with Clermont.


The ultimate 'utility back' met up with Darryn Pollock to chat about what the foreign clubs have to offer South African rugby players.


"The French draw has expanded a lot more recently, there are bigger names heading over with more english speaking players overseas, which gives a more global feel to a team," Russell told Pollock in Paarl.


"It has become a brilliant opportunity for younger guys, the French clubs are looking abroad and their budget has almost doubled so they can go after these youngsters.


"It used to be that young players in a country were aspiring to play for their national team, now all of a sudden, money is talking so the first thing they want to do is find a lucrative deal."


At first, this might seem like an incredibly negative thing for a rugby-proud nation like South Africa, but Russell continues to explain why it is a good thing for the games evolution, for the individual player, and in the long run – for the country as well.


"I like to think that we must break away from this mold of just being single minded in our rugby," Russell continued.


"Look, we have great infrastructures in this country where you could easily just pick the Springboks from South African based players alone, but at the same time, why not learn from somewhere else?"


"Why not educate ourselves with a different style of rugby?


"A perfect example is when Monty [Percy Montgomery] went and played in Wales and when he came back he was a different player.


"Why can't a lot of these young guys go play overseas, expand their game and bring that experiance back here?


Rugby players plying their trade in foreign clubs is not new, however the thinking behind it has evolved – leaving ones shore does not neccissiarily mean the end of a players national chances.


"It is no longer an exiling to play overseas, that has definitly changed, the older guys used to do that – they would retire there, like myself. That is something we should get away from," Russell said in conclusion.


Frans Steyn is another good example, after his stint overseas he came back maybe an even better player – so we really need to re evaluate what going overseas offers.


"You may miss out on watching a player develop under your nose, but at the same time he can develop in a different way and come back to contribute to his country."


Russell has a good point, rugby is one of the most rapidly evolving sports having only becoming professional 18 years ago, but it also has one of the most dogmatic fan bases.


Nobody enjoys change, and nobody enjoys change to something that has a proud and privilaged history as rugby – but as John F. Kennedy said: 'Change is the law of life, and those look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.'


If rugby players can maintain the sports hounour and esteem and still play for the badge over themselves (without degrading it to something resembling football), then I say: Qu'ils jouer au rugby en France.


Look out for Part 2 of Darryn Pollock's chat with Brent Russell where he discusses the different conditions a player faces in both England and France.


By: Darryn Pollock


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