The 'sweet and sour' of Newlands drama
REACTION: The Stormers managed to escape SA Rugby’s infamous 21-day clause with only some minor chinks in their armour.
The announcement that World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit signed a contract extension to keep him in Cape Town until at least after the British and Irish Lions tour next year came as a welcome relief after a week of high drama.
As @rugby365com reported this past weekend, Du Toit was never going to leave the Newlands-based franchise.
His decision to give notice that he was to cancel his contract in accordance with the 21-day précis, was only to ensure he resolved some issues around his contract.
The money (read salary reduction) was never a big deal.
However, it allowed him to gain control of his image rights – to bring his contract in line with the deal that Springbok skipper Siyamthanda Kolisi has.
And with that resolved, Du Toit was happy to take a pay cut and his ‘new’ contract is now in line with the collective agreement as negotiated by the players’ union, MyPlayers.
It was not a surprise Stormers coach John Dobson said he was “thrilled” with the players at his disposal.
The confirmation of Du Toit’s contract extension and the signing of fellow World Cup-winning Springbok Warrick Gelant a day earlier has softened the blow of the departure of two talented young players.
Utility back Jean-Luc du Plessis and utility forward Cobus Wiese are the only players who are departing – following their decision to tear up their contracts as a result of salary cuts and the 21-day clause.
Utility back Dillyn Leyds and prop Wilco Louw made their intention to depart Newlands clear ahead of the COVID-19 lockdown almost two months ago.
(Continue readimng below …)
Dobson said that while it is disappointing to lose players like Du Plessis and Wiese, both players have understandable reasons for looking to further their careers overseas.
“Jean-Luc and his family have been a part of the rich heritage of Western Province Rugby,” said of the Du Plessis clan – which include legends like Carel du Plessis (Jean-Luc’s father), Michael du Plessis, Willie du Plessis (both uncles) and Daniël du Plessis (cousin).
“We can’t fault him for wanting to earn what he would be earning in Japan,” Dobson said in quotes posted on the Stormers website.
“We also understood that when he came off contract he would have gone anyway, so he leaves with our blessing and we are obviously very sad to see him go.
“Cobus Wiese has been looking to go overseas for personal reasons and we were going to release him anyway.
“Both guys have been good for Province and we understood their personal circumstances,” Dobson added.
The coach admitted he had feared the damage would have been “much worse”.
“It was obviously great for us to keep the rest of the squad, a lot of credit must go to those big-name players who were in demand and who were loyal from the start of the 21-day period.
“Our first job is to try and get the guys to enjoy working and playing here, I know in some of their cases that makes a big difference. Some guys got incredible offers, so whether that is the team environment, where their families are or where they see themselves long-term it is great that they stayed.
“We are absolutely thrilled with the squad we have got,” he said in an interview on the Stormers website.
Dobson admitted Du Toit was a more “complex” case.
“He has bought into the collective bargaining agreement and like the other players has taken the same pay cut and wants to be part of our future here.
“I think that is credit to him because I think the pressure would have been substantial.
“The one thing about him is that it doesn’t matter what the game is or who he is playing for, the way he works on the field, his physicality and gives 100 percent is incredible.
“He has had a serious injury and is busy with his rehab, but now that we have got clarity that really needs to be accelerated. We are hoping that he will be available when we get back on the field,” he said.
Dobson added that the way the various stakeholders worked together was vital to retaining so many quality players.
“The support from the board and the shareholder in keeping Pieter-Steph and this amazing squad together has been absolutely incredible. We don’t have billionaire equity partners, we are owned by our clubs, which are going through enormous stress themselves.
“So the support of our shareholder (WPRFU) which is owned by the clubs, allowed us to do this. We must give a lot of credit to Zelt Marais the president and his executive for supporting us. It is great for the region and we are very grateful for that,” he said.
Before negotiations were entered into with Gelant, Dobson consulted with some of the players, including Damian Willemse who will now be able to focus on settling as primary playmaker at flyhalf.
“The first person before we even spoke seriously to Warrick was Damian and he was thrilled at the idea. When I told Siya about it he got on the phone to Warrick because he is a great professional and a good team man who looks after himself really well.
“We run it by the players, there is no point bringing in players who aren’t going to fit in.
“Damian is very happy where he is, it is what is good for the team and we are going to make him into a very good Vodacom Super Rugby flyhalf.
“Damian is one of the best Vodacom Super Rugby 10’s in South Africa and he is going to get even better with more time to prepare and train and focus on that position,” he explained.
With Du Plessis heading to Japan and Willemse focusing on flyhalf, it also presents a good opportunity to develop some of the promising young flyhalves in the system.
“We are really pleased with the youngsters we have got at 10, there is Sacha Mngomezulu who is two or three years away, Kade Wolhuter has come back from Montpellier, Christopher Schreuder and Mossie Mostert who are all really good No.10s.
“We are not limited. Damian can play No.12 and Warrick can play on the wing, but it gives us a year or two to get these really talented young No.10s through, so I am pretty excited by how that fits together for us,” Dobson added.
With a talented squad confirmed for the foreseeable future, the focus for Dobson and his coaching team now shifts to preparing the players for a return to rugby, whenever it is safe to do so.
Dobson explained that there are already a number of plans in place to ensure that the Stormers are able to navigate what will be a completely different sporting landscape given the impact of the pandemic.
“We are going to go through another pre-season which will be a great opportunity to get the new players and those returning from injury back into how we are working, conditioned properly and enjoying the culture. So this is a vital period coming up.
“We will probably start with individuals, then move to stacks, which are groups of seven or eight and then into collective training and then the games.
“We have to be really careful when we get together as a group, we can control the training facility and we have some really good protocols and plans in place for that,” he said.
This will also involve operating a type of ‘two-squad’ system to ensure that they are covered from any possible positive infections.
“The consequence of a positive test is that the rest of the guys that person has been in contact with are out for two weeks, so if we do get a positive test, that squad won’t be able to play the next game.
“We will probably be working around the idea of having two squads which never touch or mix. We are lucky with our depth that we could probably do that, or we could overlap if everybody is clear.
“The screening is of course going to be very regular, but we would not have our entire squad training together the week before the game because we run the risk of putting them all into isolation,” Dobson added.
* Additional reporting by @THESTORMERS
* Also worth reading …
Bok’s contract cancellation a masterstroke
It’s Official: Pieter-Steph du Toit decides playing future
Former Sharks flyhalf extends Japan stay
Lions facing new raid on player resources?
Bok fullback signs for Stormers