Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Alarms going off regarding overseas-based Springboks

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Morne Steyn is playing for Stade Francais while still in contention for the Springboks. Photo / Getty Images
Morne Steyn is playing for Stade Francais while still in contention for the Springboks. Photo / Getty Images

For those who don't believe allowing overseas-based players to be eligible for the All Blacks would be disastrous, take heed of what is happening in South Africa.

The Boks have an open policy on selection and are happy to pick men who are not contracted to South African sides. Given how well they played last year, it looks a progressive and reasonable policy.

But it might be that by the end of 2014 this strategy unravels for them.

Early days, of course, but the Bulls opened their Super Rugby campaign looking a shadow of their once formidable selves. Turnover of personnel is inevitable in this business, but look at how many currently overseas-based former Bulls players are or will be in the Springbok fame: Zane Kirchner (Leinster), Gurthro Steenkamp (Toulouse), Bakkies Botha (Toulon), Morne Steyn (Stade Francais) and Fourie du Preez (Suntory) all toured as Boks last year. There are a handful of other key South Africans also based offshore: this includes Jaque Fourie (Kobe Steelers), JP Pietersen (Panasonic) Francois Louw (Bath), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) and Bryan Habana (Toulon).

In the Springbok match-day 23 that played France in November last year, there were nine overseas-based players: there were 11 in the 30-man squad. There are three issues with this set-up. The first is whether the individuals based offshore are being appropriately conditioned to play test match football in the Southern Hemisphere.

Graham Henry, in his role as technical director of Argentina, noted last year that the Pumas were hugely disadvantaged by the fact most of their squad play club rugby in Europe. To come out of that and then immediately have to play Four Nations rugby which is fast and furious, is an almost impossible task.

The second concern lies in logistics and fatigue. Last year some Springboks had to fly back to Europe in the rest weekends of the Four Nations to play for their clubs. They can get away with it in the short term but the ultimate impact will be early burnout and reduced performance. There will also be the problems of integration with the South African-based players and the reduction of training time given the inevitable late arrivals of those coming from Europe.

The final negative is the impact so many departures will have on the quality of South Africa's Super Rugby teams.

Most years, South Africa can be guaranteed to have two heavyweight sides, a competitive third and a tricky enough fourth team.

But in 2014, the Sharks may be the only serious contender; the Bulls and Stormers good without being overly threatening and the Lions and Cheetahs basement-dwellers. The worry is that the exodus might have diluted the strength of the overall playing base - a strong, competitive domestic scene is imperative for continued success on the international stage.

- NZ Herald

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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