Returning South African players is a 'sign of the times'
REACTION: After Ruan Pienaar signed for the Cheetahs on Wednesday, he became the second Springbok to make the move back to South Africa after JP Pietersen joined the Sharks earlier this week.
Both Pienaar and Pietersen have returned after stints in France, with Montpellier and Toulon respectively.
Before his stint with Montpellier, Pienaar played for Irish side Ulster between 2010 and 2017.
Although both of these are two big names, and World Cup winners, some fans feel that this is a sign that times are changing in terms of the global power structure in rugby.
Ever since rugby turned professional, the Northern Hemisphere has been seen as a place for players from the south to finish their careers. Financially it has always been desirable, and the standard of rugby has always been below that of Super Rugby or the Currie Cup.
However, the exodus of South African players in recent years has led to a decline in the quality of domestic rugby, meaning older players return for the final years of their career. While it may not have the financial benefits of playing in the Northern Hemisphere, it is perhaps easier to play.
Pienaar is 35 years of age, while Pietersen is 32, and may have been seen as surplus to requirements to their former clubs in France. Similarly, Morné Steyn, 35, has joined the Bulls from Stade Francais.
Schalk Brits is another name to add to this list, as he came out of retirement to join the Bulls for the Super Rugby campaign. However, at the age of 38, the hooker has excelled for the Pretoria side, and has even been recalled to the Springboks.
Nonetheless, this is still the first time that ageing players have opted to return back to South African rugby, while the younger players are all leaving. The Springboks are set to lose the majority of their big names next season such as Eben Etzebeth and Handre Pollard to the Top 14, and the loosening of the national side’s selection policy has only facilitated this departure of talent.
While this is an interesting observation from the fans, there is a much more troubling side to it, as this is stultifying the progress of emerging players.
Pietersen has already been named in the Sharks squad for the first Currie Cup game of the season, and fans feel that this stops younger players from getting a chance of playing.
This is what the fans have said:
— Angus (@AngyboyJ) July 10, 2019
Hectic that the older players now come to SA (instead of Europe) for their swan song. Sign of the times.
— EP (@ep_forever) July 11, 2019
The guys used to go and retire in the Northern Hemisphere. Times, and the exchange rate, have changed!
— Stephen Nell (@Stephen_Nell) July 3, 2019
All has beens cashing in one more time.
— Schoeman 1964 (@Schoeman1964) July 3, 2019
I find it extremely irritating that unions contract has beens at super high cost to come retire in SA & at expense of contracting a couple young players for future!! @BrendenNel @followthebounce @roblouw6 @SARugbymag JP Pietersen is not better than any young wing in DBN!!
— Colyn Truter (@colyntruter) June 30, 2019
Ultimately in rugby, and all sport, money talks, which means South African players in their prime will be lured away. While it will please some to see the likes of Pienaar, Pietersen and Steyn back on South African shores, it is an indication of where South African rugby is currently.
By Josh Raisey