As was reported by Sport24 last week, the big money from foreign clubs has started to be flashed in the faces of several Springbok stars.
The sudden interest from overseas clubs in SA players stems from a 21-day window that was agreed upon by the SA Rugby Industry, MyPlayers and the South African Rugby Employers’ Organisation (SAREO) in which all professional players have three weeks – until 14 May – to get out of their current contracts with their respective unions and sign on the dotted line with those big-spending UK, France and Japanese clubs in particular.
Failing to do so would mean remaining in South Africa and accepting pay cuts to their current contracts in light of the coronavirus pandemic which has seen not only rugby, but all sport, grind to a halt.
The window comes at a time that the Rand is particularly weak, making a move abroad an easier decision for many.
It all forms part of SA Rugby’s attempt at cutting costs across the board in an effort to save up to R1 billion by the end of the year as the economic impact of the coronavirus becomes more severe with each passing week.
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Sport24 was informed that there was particular interest – predictably – in Stormers and Springbok 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit from a host of suitors.
Du Toit, 27, was heavily linked with a move to Harlequins late last year, but on Sunday reports emerged that French Top 14 giants Montpellier may be preparing to make the star forward the highest paid player in the game.
According to the Rapport newspaper, the French club have offered Du Toit a three-year deal worth a staggering €100 000 (R2 087 000) per month. That equates to €3.6 million or R75.1 million at the current €1/R20.87 exchange rate.
However, Stormers coach John Dobson had a telephonic conversation with Du Toit and his family on Saturday night and confirmed to Sport24 that no formal offer has been received yet.
While the Stormers would not need to be informed of the offer given the specifics of the clause – there is ultimately nothing the franchise could do to stop it – Dobson says there’s an agreement with the player and his agent, Gerrie Swart, that any offer will be brought to the attention of the franchise.
“I’m not saying it won’t come, but as of right now there has been no offer that we are aware of,” Dobson said.
“We have a very good relationship with Pieter-Steph and Gerrie, and we have an understanding that they would inform us whenever an offer did come in.”
One of the major issues for Dobson and the Stormers is that, under the stipulations of the clause, they are not allowed to negotiate their contract with Du Toit, or any of their assets, during this time.
That, it is understood, is an area where the Stormers are prepared to explore their options legally while the veracity of the reported number of R75 million is also a factor.
Western Province Rugby Union (WPRU) president Zelt Marais, meanwhile, has made a plea to agents and overseas clubs to not act “unscrupulously” during a time where he considers South African unions and players to be in a vulnerable position.
It is understood that WPRU were earlier this week considering challenging the clause legally, but Marais confirmed to Sport24 on Friday that the union had since stood down from that position and accepted the legitimacy of the window.
Of the 33 players who were part of the Springboks’ 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning squad in Japan, just 14 (42%) remain based in the country after the exodus abroad that transpired at the end of 2019.
The percent is expected to dwindle further in the coming days as players could leave their decision up to 24 hours before the deadline to avoid ‘awkward’ negotiations with current employers in what amounts to somewhat of a unique ‘deadline day’ in rugby, something soccer fans will be far more accustomed to.
The Stormers have seven of those 14 players on their books and face a hard fight to keep them in the Cape.
Du Toit is understood to be happy in Cape Town, but with SA Rugby’s policy allowing new Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber to pick players based abroad, staying put in order to be selected is less of a necessity.