There was much annoyance among Springbok fans when it was announced not long before South Africa’s test match against Argentina in the Rugby Championship that the release of Bryan Habana was required by his new club Toulon. This increased even more when it came to light that five of the players in the current Springbok Squad for the Rugby Championship were being ‘released’ to go back to their clubs in France while the rest of the players would return for a break to South Africa.
Having trawled through parts of the lengthy document that is the IRB’s Regulations Relating to the Game which is filled with legal type jargon that our webmaster is better qualified to understand I came to the conclusion that the Springbok management didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Whether they should be selecting overseas based players or not is an entirely different matter and not within the remit of this article.
I may have misunderstood them but from what I could tell it seems that outside of the cash cow that is the World Cup the IRB seems to regard the players first and foremost as the assets of the clubs they are contracted to and then have made provisions, under certain conditions, for the players to be available to play for their countries.
During the ‘window’ for international matches out with the World Cup it would seem that the players generally only need to report for international duty five days prior to a test match. So for example if the Springboks play England on the end of year tour on a Saturday then the players only need to be in the Bok camp on the Monday. While it is not practical and would probably not happen in theory they could play for the Springboks on the Saturday and then be recalled by their clubs for the Sunday and then head back on the Monday if there is an international on the next Saturday.
There is no explicit provision for the players to remain for the entire duration of the Rugby Championship and so with all the above in mind with the one week break in the competition the clubs had first say on their players this week and it wasn’t really a case of them needing to request for the players to be released by the Springboks.
I may have missed the obligations on the clubs part in this regard but the international teams need to be able to provide adequate insurance for the players when they are on international duty and need to provide proof of this to the clubs prior to the players being released by their clubs. The players also need to go through medical tests after an international match before they go back to the clubs.
There are also all sorts of restrictions on the number of games in any particular international window that the clubs have to make their players available to play for their country. In total it amounts to twelve games a year. During the end of year tours the clubs are only obliged to release their players for three games.
This just highlights the difficulty national bodies have when selecting players who play for clubs outside their union and how important it is that a good relationship is maintained between the countries and clubs regarding the use of players for international matches. One would hope that if a healthy relationship is maintained during the international windows that the clubs would be more likely to release players for any international matches or training camps etc that fall outside this window.
The ‘French Five’
Winger Bryan Habana recently signed with Toulon on a contract worth a rumoured 50 000 Euros a month. Toulon crushed Francois Steyn’s former club Racing Metro in their Top 14 encounter last week and have an away game against Grenoble on Saturday. Toulon were full of running and scored 5 tries against Racing Metro with their first try being scored by strong left wing David Smith after good interplay in the build up and a strong run by to dot down. Smith scored the last try of the match for Toulon as well. It is thus no surprise that Habana is not in the starting line but has been handed the number 20 jumper, so should get a run on from the bench at some point.
Lock Juandré Kruger left the Vodacom Bulls in the lurch as he departed at a critical stage in the last Super rugby competition to join up with Racing Metro. They will be at home on Saturday to newcomers to the Top 14 Oyonnax who secured an upset win last weekend over last season’s beaten Heineken Cup finalists Clermont Auvergne. Kruger will play from the outset as he has been listed on the team sheet in the number four jersey, playing alongside fellow South African Francois v/d Merwe in the second row.
Loosehead prop Gurthrö Steenkamp has been playing in France for longer than his four Springbok team mates released for this weekend and currently is with Toulouse. Steenkamp has been selected to start the match for Toulouse’s game on Saturday away from home against Clermont Auvergne.
Flyhalf Morné Steyn started his career at the Blue Bulls in the shadow of Derrick Hougaard but went on to make not only the Bulls flyhalf jersey his own but the Springbok’s one too. In the process Steyn went on to set many records which in my opinion will stand for a long time. Steyn joined Parisian club Stade Francaise at the end of the Super Rugby season. Morné Steyn is on the bench tonight for Stade who are hosting Biarritz.
Scrumhalf Jano Vermaak is another of the Bulls contingent who swopped Fortress Loftus for France this year. Vermaak joined fellow Springbok Gurthrö Steenkamp at Toulouse. Saturday will see Vermaak make his competitive debut for Toulouse, against Clermont Auvergne and he has been named in their starting lineup.
The Springboks brain trust will be hoping for these five players to be on the field for as short a time as possible with the upcoming test next weekend against Australia in mind. Even more importantly they will be hoping that none of these players pick up any injuries playing in the notoriously tough Top 14.