It's not unusual for South Africa's domestic sides to bleed international talent faster than the speed of a French ruck. Players obtain fame for their size and athletic prowess and after 2 or 3 seasons at home their snapped up by either France, England, Ireland or Japan for the most part. Whilst the trend also works to see the players return for a final hoorah on home soil. This is evident at the Bulls and Lions presently with many former Boks gracing the fields of Ellis Park and Loftus.
Recently though, and make no mistake, I am aware of the helpfulness of their financial backing. The Sharks have managed to both retain SA home based talent as well as to lure our talent abroad back home. The signing of Bok stars such as Kolisi and Mbonambi showed the side's big dollar backers were thinking smart with their cheque books. They went a step further and managed to lure Eben Etzebeth home from France, a massive coup by anyone's standards.
Rumor's are circling around the return of further World Cup winners in the shape of Lood de Jager and Pieter-Steph du Toit too, whilst narrowly missing out on luring Faf de Klerk home too. Why are these signings any different to those before? Why are they so significant? easy;
Etzebeth signed for the Sharks up to and including 2027 (another full World Cup cycle) and at the age of only 30, he is without a doubt in his prime. PSDT and Lood are the same age and will also be coming home to South African rugby whilst they have a tremendous amount to offer in the game. These are not players at the winding down stage of their careers, but rather at the precipice of it. We discuss this more in our podcast, check it out.
The crucial factor in their return is that they are able to both rear the younger generation of players whilst still being in form and well deserving of their spots in the team. They will assist their franchise's in the drive for success and the end spin off will surely lead to better player retention and a growth spurt in the South African game. Who will be next? I definitely hope Esterhuizen is one someone's list.
One can only hope that the Lions and Stormers manage to lure some private investment so that the allure of playing at home, can be backed by financial incentives that ensure we have our players in their prime. There are a number of top flight Boks overseas and it would be great to see them back at Ellis Park or Cape Town stadium too. Imagine the like's of Kolbe, Reinach, Rohan, De Allende, Esterhuizen, Marx, Sous etc. being back, one can only hope this becomes increasingly possible in the coming years.