The local rugby community is on tenterhooks this week, waiting with bated breath to see whether the controversial “escape clause” – negotiated as part of SA Rugby’s Covid-19 cost saving plan – will decimate playing stocks or be a storm in a tea cup.
Register your interest for the British & Irish Lions tickets in South Africa 2021
According to the provision, players have until Thursday to be granted an unconditional release with their current employers if they have an agreement in place with an overseas-based club.
Given that cynics allege the players and their agents will play brinkmanship with franchises in order to eliminate any negotiation hurdles, uncertainty is palpable.
So let’s lighten the gloom a bit.
What if the four Super Rugby teams – even in their pandemic-induced austerity states – were allowed one “free transfer” pick of SA-born players, released or about-to-be-released by their overseas clubs, for a problem position?
(Remember, this all hypothetical in the name of just having a bit of fun.)
BULLS: Robert Ebersohn
When the Ebersohn twins were trailblazing their way through junior rugby at Grey College, the pundits were touting flyhalf Sias to become the real superstar.
As it turned out, it was the more “unfashionable” Robert who’s tasted more success and proved his worth.
Surprisingly strong, the 31-year-old is a reliable performer with nimble footwork, a decent defensive game and good organisational skills.
With Johnny Kotze having exercised the Covid-19 clause and Blitzbok Dylan Sage struggling to really take off in the 15-man format, Ebersohn could’ve been an ideal and calming presence in the Bulls’ midfield.
His pedigree as a captain – a role he fulfilled at French club Castres and the Junior Springboks – means he would also add vital leadership to Jake White’s backline stock.
White coached him at Montpellier.
LIONS: Michael Rhodes
The men from Ellis Park won’t be deviating from their expansive approach anytime soon, which is understandable given their relative success with it in the past.
But what has become abundantly clear in the last two seasons is that the Lions lack a few grizzled bullies up front, particularly in a nippy yet underpowered loose trio, to provide a talented backline division a good platform.
Enter the 32-year-old Saracens enforcer, who’s still strongly touted for an exit following the English giants’ ignominious relegation from the Premiership. Rhodes – a 1.97m, 114kg heavyweight – is a man known for relishing the collisions and isn’t averse to pushing the boundaries of legality on the field.
He’d be a perfect anchor of the pack, providing the desperately-needed oomph for mercurial talents such as Jaco Kriel, Marnus Schoeman and Hacjivah Dayimani to weave their wands.
Rhodes’ extensive experience at lock would also be handy in another position that lacks proven class.
SHARKS: Maks van Dyk
It says much for the carefully-crafted depth at the Durban franchise that there are no glaring deficiencies, assuming the status quo remains.
However, the rumoured interest in Thomas du Toit be true, the Sharks would be left with a sizeable hole.
Tighthead is not a position oozing experience at the union, perhaps necessitating the acquisition of a wiser player to provide competition and even mentor John-Hubert Meyer and Michael Kumbirai.
Maks van Dyk, who famously asked French president Emmanuel Macron for citizenship in last season’s Top 14 final, has been released by Toulouse and had previously been on the Bulls’ radar too, suggesting he would be open to a return to the country of his birth.
Still only 28, Van Dyk is supposed to be in his prime as prop and would be able to perform at a level that not only inspires his younger teammates to keep their intensity up, but also push for a starting spot.
STORMERS: EW Viljoen
There was always the sense that the imposing midfielder bowed out at Newlands on an unsatisfactory note.
Plagued by injury, Viljoen didn’t even play enough in the blue-and-white hoops in his final months for fickle fans to either bemoan his departure to Leicester Tigers or a cry of “Good riddance!”.
Yet the corona-created economic turmoil means the former Grey College star has been one of the more prominent casualties of cost-cutting initiatives, not even lasting a season at Welford Road.
In an ideal world, the Stormers hierarchy should give him a second chance.
With Jamie Roberts back in Wales, Viljoen could’ve made a strong case for becoming the candidate that forms a prosperous, longer-term partnership with the gifted Rikus Pretorius.
Yes, the similarly muscular Ruhan Nel is still present, but his Blitzbok loyalty and own struggles to really take 15s by the scruff of the neck means the 25-year-old returnee could easily make the No 13 jersey his own.
But what about the further lack of experience such a move would precipitate in the backline?
Well, as they say: sometimes, you just have to let the kids play…