Record try-scorer Bryan Habana was one of six senior internationals not awarded a Springboks contract yesterday as coach Heyneke Meyer said the trend of players moving to overseas clubs was “not ideal” for his plans.
Habana, who has 47 tries in 83 Tests, and the other five players would have been awarded a national contract for this year if not for their decisions to move to Europe or Japan, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) said.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn, fullback Zane Kirchner, wing J.P. Pietersen and locks Andries Bekker and Juandre Kruger were also left off the 15-player list as they are set to leave South Africa toward the end of the season. The SARU said a further five national contracts were still available and would be awarded later.
SARU chief executive Jurie Roux recognized a trend which has been exacerbated by the weakening of the South African currency and has seen top Springboks take up big-money contracts overseas.
“We’ve kept as many of our top players in South Africa as we could by awarding them national contracts, despite the powerful lure of the pound, euro and yen,” Roux said.
Habana has signed for Toulon of France and will move at the end of the Super Rugby season, although the prolific wing has said he will continue to be available for the Springboks. However, there are obvious logistical difficulties in having senior national team members playing in the European or Japanese seasons.
“Losing experienced players to overseas teams is not ideal, but it’s their right to further their careers abroad,” Meyer said.
In response, the SARU named a reasonably young 15-man group of centrally contracted players.
Captain Jean de Villiers, flyhalf Pat Lambie, 21-year-old lock Eben Etzebeth and front-row regulars Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis were all given contracts, as were loose forwards Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Pierre Spies and Duane Vermeulen.
Habana ended last year in top form, while fellow Pietersen and Kirchner were first choices in their positions. Bekker and Kruger were South Africa’s top two No. 5 locks last season. Although Steyn lost his starting place, he is expected to remain important for the Springboks this year.
Pietersen is set to play in Japan and may not be available for the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina over the next two seasons. Kirchner and Kruger will also likely miss time in the national jersey, while Bekker was left out of Meyer’s first ’Boks squad of the season, suggesting he will not be considered while he plays in Japan.