South Africa's depth is sure to be tested now, more than ever
South Africa seems to be losing a lot of players to the overseas rugby market. But just how many of its actual top players is the country's talent pool haemorrhaging at present?
Forget the regular end of year silly season, it's crazy times in South African rugby right now as the overseas rugby scouts continue to plunder the country's best (and sometimes, young) players.
From recent SA Under-20 captains, to established Super Rugby players... the depth at Super Rugby franchises and Currie Cup unions - not to mention the Springbok team - is sure to be tested now, more than ever.
But are these recent losses really that big?
Which of the players currently based abroad, or those about to take up deals overseas, are good enough to be first choice players for South Africa?
We scoured the rugby-playing globe and tried to put together the best foreign-based SA team that could threaten the current players in Green & Gold; in other words, could the best foreign XV beat the Springboks?
Please note we have not considered any player CURRENTLY playing for the Springboks - which rules out Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar and Wynand Olivier; all of whom played against England last month - nor any SA-born players who are playing for other countries (such as Brad Barritt, Mouritz Botha, etc).
However, we have considered players that have just signed overseas deals and are in the process of heading to foreign climes - players like WP Nel, Quinn Roux and Danie Poolman coming to mind immediately.
THE SA FOREIGN XV:
15 Brent Russell (Clermont Auvergne - France):
The former Springbok pocket rocket has been in Europe for some time now, having initially made the move to Saracens - the other home to South African rugby players. He is still a regular in the Clermont matchday 23.
14 Tonderai Chavhanga (Newport Dragons - Wales):
The Zimbabwean-born speedster made the move to Wales in September 2011, after gaining four Springbok caps between 2005 and 2008. He played 18 matches for the Dragons in his debut season, scoring seven tries.
13 Jaque Fourie (Kobe Kobelco Steelers - Japan):
The 2007 World Cup winner made a big-money, headline-grabbing move to Japan after the 2011 World Cup - a move which reportedly would net him in excess of R20-million over two years. He has since made himself unavailable for international selection, turning down an overture from new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
12 Doppies la Grange (Benetton Treviso - Italy):
Perhaps La Grange saw something coming when he announced his intentions to set sail for Italy back in May already. He has been a stalwart for the Lions since 2003, culminating in the leading role he played in their Currie Cup triumph last year.
11 Danie Poolman (Connacht - Ireland):
Poolman announced just a week ago that he would be throwing in his lot with Connacht... and Ireland in a bid for international honours in the lighter green of the Emerald Isle. He was playing ahead of JJ Engelbrecht - now a Springbok squad member - in the Stormers team in 2011.
10 Peter Grant (Kobe Kobelco Steelers - Japan):
Grant still divides his team between South Africa (Super Rugby) and Japan, but he does not play Currie Cup rugby for Western Province. Some feel that he is unlucky not be part of the Bok set-up at present, hence his decision to split his 'hours' between Japan and Cape Town.
9 Fourie du Preez (Suntory Goliath - Japan):
Du Preez was everyone's favourite to be named as Springbok captain this year, until he turned down the opportunity in a face-to-face meeting with his long-time Bulls mentor, Meyer. He just edges out Neil de Kock (Saracens - England) and Michael Claassens (Bath - England) in our selection.
8 Joe van Niekerk (Toulon - France):
The Toulon skipper recently signed a new two-year deal, before leading his team to the 2011/12 Top 14 Final where they went down to Toulouse. He is a crucial part of the Toulon unit. Ernst Joubert (Saracens - England) and Jacques Cronje (Racing Metro - France) have also been in superb form for their respective clubs since moving to Europe, with the former able to qualify for England.
7 Francois Louw (Bath - England):
The undoubted heartbeat of the Bath team, Louw became an instant hit at The Rec after signing a deal after the 2011 Super Rugby season. You have to think that he still has a few Test caps left in him - having just turned 27.
6 CJ Stander (Munster - Ireland):
South African rugby could still regret losing the Bulls tyro, who turned 22 just a few short months ago. He looks set to turn out for Ireland at the 2015 World Cup. Pedrie Wannenburg was huge for Ulster this past season, but has just made the move to Castres in France, whilst Cheetahs powerhouse Ashley Johnson will be moving to London Wasps after the Super Rugby season.
5 Johann Muller (Ulster - Ireland):
The double World Cup representative skippered Ulster to the 2012 Heineken Cup Final and continues to be a key man for the Belfast-based team. At 32, he has at least two seasons of top-level rugby left in him, making him two years older than new Agen signing Ross Skeate.
4 Quinn Roux (Leinster - Ireland):
The strapping WP and Stormers second row seems intent on returning to Cape Town after a season abroad, but 12 months at Europe's finest club could sway him to stay in Dublin a bit longer. Yes, he will wear our No.4 jersey ahead of seasoned Bok pros Bakkies Botha (Toulon - France) and Danie Rossouw (Suntory Goliath - Japan).
3 WP Nel (Edinburgh - Scotland):
The Cheetahs anchor will leave a huge gap in Bloemfontein when he links up with Edinburgh after the Super Rugby season. BJ Botha (Munster - Ireland) and Eugène van Staden (Biarritz - France) are not bad back-ups in an always-crucial position.
2 Schalk Brits (Saracens - England):
Brits just edges out John Smit (Saracens - England) and Richardt Strauss (Leinster - Ireland) here; given the impact that he has made at Saracens and the numerous awards he has picked up. Strauss, of course, looks set to qualify for Ireland on residency grounds.
1 Gurthro Steenkamp (Toulouse - France):
The former Bulls stalwart had an injury-hit first season with rugby's Galácticos, but he still ended with a Top 14 winners' medal - beating Van Niekerk's Toulon team in the final. Former Lions powerhouse Heinke van der Merwe (Leinster) and ex-Free Stater Wian du Preez (Munster) continue to add grunt to Ireland's best teams.
So, then, let's compare this team (ours): 15 Brent Russell, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies le Grange, 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Francois Louw, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 WP Nel, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
To the Bok team for the second Test against England (the series-clinching team - as chosen by Heyneke Meyer): 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
* Interestingly, of the Bok team that played against England in the second Test, three players had played abroad at some point - Jean de Villiers, Frans Steyn and Juandre Kruger - with an additional player on the bench, Ruan Pienaar, currently being based abroad.
Another replacement, Wynand Olivier, is set to take a sabbatical in Japan in the next few months.
By Howard Kahn
* What do YOU think, then; would our Foreign XV beat the Bok team from the second Test against England?