South African sides the Sharks, Lions, Bulls and Stormers have had two full seasons in Europe, enjoying varied success along the way. With any competition there will always be teething issues and the like, but overall the move has proven to be a master stroke and one that will only gain traction and momentum as the sides build on the budding rivalries.
In my mind there have always been two major obstacles to success in the URC and in the Heineken/Challenge Cup. Number one is the travel factor, which one the face of it seems an easy fix. The travel up North is nowhere near as tedious as the journeys undertaken during the Super Rugby day's, but has been over complicated with numerous connecting flights and long delays. At some point there needs to be a look in to charter flights that take teams directly to where they need to go.
Number two, is what this article is really about, the salary cap. The four main SA franchises at times this year have had to field sides in the URC, Heineken Cup and Currie Cup, a tough ask of anyone, made even tougher by budget constraints. As a result of this, we have seen many players doing double or triple competition duty. This is not an easy sell when trying to lure players to your side to bolster your squad.
The cap for the 22/23 season was 67.2 million and the squad size was capped at 45 players. This is in stark contrast to the Irish sides which we are expected to compete against, who have no cap in place. A good example is to look at Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff, Ulster were able to offer him almost 50% more than the Stormers could, due to the limitations place on their spending. They had made an offer in the region of R9 Million but still couldn't compete, Hardly a way to retain top talent in the country.
South African domestic rugby has also seen a foray into privatisation with the Sharks sold to MVM Holdings and the Bulls being backed by billionaires Patrice Motsepe and Johann Rupert. This has proven to be counter productive as their hands are tied behind their backs as they attempt to resurrect the franchises and turn them into financially viable businesses. Having marquee signings on the field regularly is what puts bums in chairs and that has been hamstrung up until now.
There has been great news over the weekend however as the cap has seen some adaptations for the 23/24 season and beyond. The salary cap has been raised by 26% for the upcoming season to R85.5 million. There will be a further R10 million added to the cap for the 24/25 season. The squad size has also been increased to 53 players which will drastically assist in the sides competitiveness.
The biggest win with the revised cap however comes in the form of permitting the franchises to each sign four "marquee players" whose salaries will fall outside of the cap. This is a really innovative idea and attempt at retaining some of the top tier Springboks players in SA. Something like this will allow the Sharks to retain the likes of Bongi, Eben and Am without impeding on their overall budgetary constraints for example. Even more importantly, the increased cap could potentially see us lure even more Springboks back home.
I believe that this is a huge move by SARU and will drastically improve the SA sides ability to build a squad over the long term and retain players that form the spine of the team. Now just to sort out the travel issues and you may just see a bit more bite out of the SA sides come the new season. For now lets back the Stormers who have gotten it all right within the current frame work.