South Africa's leading rugby players have been dealt a heavy blow after the country's rugby bosses decided that players basing themselves abroad would no longer be eligible for the national rugby team.
The decision by the South African Rugby Union's (SARU) President's Council on Thursday means some of the Springboks' superstars will play their last matches for their country at this year's World Cup in France. The tournament runs between Sept. 7 and Oct. 20.
Springbok captain John Smit, lock forward Victor Matfield, hooker Gary Botha and wing Ashwin Willemse are the big-name stars who have signed up with clubs in France and England for the forthcoming European season.
Others players heading north include Brent Russell, Gerrie Britz, Bob Skinstad, Percy Montgomery and a handful of promising youngsters including Cheetahs Super 14 players Philip Burger and Ronnie Cooke.
South Africa's rugby bosses have decided the only way to halt the exodus is to ban the overseas based players from coming into contention for the Springbok side.
"It's a really tricky situation, but we had to draw the line somewhere," SARU president Oregan Hoskins was quoted as saying by Friday's Johannesburg based Star newspaper.
Up to 100 South African born players, including a number of former Test players, are currently in action outside South Africa.
In recent times Springbok coach Jake White has selected overseas-based players for the national team, most notably fullback Percy Montgomery and flyhalf Jaco van der Westhuyzen. Saracens prop Cobus Visagie was also called up when the Boks were on tour in Australia during the Tri-Nations series.
Hoskins said those call-ups were an exception after the rules had been relaxed because White really wanted those specific players for his team.