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Test caps or Euros?

The loss of young Bulls talent CJ Stander came as quite a shock to the South African rugby fraternity. But is he simply chasing more money in Europe, or is it the lure of playing for Ireland that is driving his decision to head abroad?

Stander, a bright prospect – his CV and 2012 Super Rugby form backing him up, announced on Wednesday that he would be furthering his career at top Irish province, Munster, for the next two years at least.

That means that, after two years, he would be one more season away from qualifying for his adopted country which would, no doubt, put him in the driving seat for a place in Ireland's 2015 World Cup squad.

The Bulls admitted that they could not match Munster's monetary offer for Stander – Euros will always trump the Rand – but it would seem obvious that with his Munster deal comes a clearer road to Test rugby… whereas, in South Africa, Stander would face a much tougher battle to break into the big league of Green & Gold rugby.

Yes, Stander could return home after two years, as his Bulls colleague Juandré Kruger did after a stint in England with Northampton, but it is pretty hard seeing the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Potgieter, Willem Alberts, Pierre Spies, Keegan Daniel, Siya Kolisi or Arno Botha voluntarily making way in the next three years to allow Stander an open door into the Springbok team. (Let's not forget too that the likes of Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Nick Koster, Heinrich Brüssow are currently injured or not being selected by Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.)

The threat of losing good, young South African rugby players is not new, however. In 2010, before he became a Springbok, Scotland rugby scouts began sniffing around the Scottish-qualified Pat Lambie. He soon became a Bok, which made him 'safe'.

Quality South African players with overseas parentage will always be easy targets (Lambie, Barritt, etc), but losing a talented young player like Stander – who has effectively chosen to further his international career elsewhere – is a worry.

Stander could hate life on the Emerald Isle and return home after a few months (as Sharks lock Steven Sykes did recently – from Leinster in Ireland), rendering this column worthless, and, with it, calming down any panic.

He could, however, love life and go on to earn 50-plus caps for Ireland.

Only time will tell…

One way of stopping this from happening is creating a clear, and obvious, SA 'A' team – i.e. a Springbok B team, like England do with their Saxons team – which would 'cap' the next tier of SA players and could prevent them from taking up offers like Stander's. Let's make it clear, it's not a worry that Stander is heading abroad; the big worry is that he could be heading abroad with an eye to qualifying for another Test nation.

After all, whilst Stander did not make the actual Springbok squad against England, remember that he was part of a six-man squad – identified by Meyer as future Boks – which has been training alongside the senior squad during the SA-England series. (He was joined by Siya Kolisi, Arno Botha, Frans Malherbe, Francois Venter and Piet van Zyl in the squad.)

The Northern and Southern Barbarians teams which played against two England midweek teams did little test the tourists but also proved just how valuable an 'A-Series' would be, either at home to touring sides or on a separate tour altogether, not only to test the next tier of SA players, but also to ensure that SA has another way to hang onto its vast rugby talent.

By Howard Kahn

* What do you think? Should Stander have stayed and fought for a Bok place? Or is it ok that he will he turn out for Ireland at the 2015 World Cup?


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