The fine print

Thu, 11 Oct 2012 09:18
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The most important step SARU can take to bridge the gap between the Springboks and the All Blacks is to review the current contracting system.

The most important step the South African Rugby Union can take to bridge the gap between the Springboks and the All Blacks is to review the current contracting system.

The world champions have underlined their superiority by going unbeaten so far this year, but there has to be more to their dominance than just being able to execute a better gameplan.

One obvious advantage that New Zealand had over South Africa and Australia in the Rugby Championship was their comparatively short injury list.

With Boks and Wallabies dropping out of contention regularly throughout the competition, the All Blacks managed to keep a settled combination which gave them a distinct upper hand.

Does this mean that their players work harder on their fitness or that they use more effective training methods? No, but it does show that they are being managed better than their counterparts in South Africa and Australia.

The most important difference comes in the contracting systems in place in the different countries. The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) implements central contracting, which means that the top 150 professional players sign contracts with the national body (NZRU) before their franchises.

The franchises are each allocated a budget from within the player payment pool, but the NZRU ultimately has the final say in how the players are managed. Richie McCaw's sabbatical next year is a great example of how the needs of the player and the greater good of New Zealand rugby are prioritised under this system.

In South Africa the players are contracted to their unions, with only the Springboks holding contracts with SARU as well.

This means that the needs of the union are put first as they are the ones paying the players' salaries, which results in a situation such as this weekend where battle-weary Springboks are thrust straight into Currie Cup action without being able to catch their breath.

With certain Springboks like captain Jean de Villiers having played just about every fixture possible this year, is it any wonder that the injury toll on the top players is only getting worse?

De Villiers told this website that he believes central contracting is undoubtedly the way to go.

"I don't think the current system is ideal and you might just gain more by doing central contracting.

"It is something that I think is more ideal for everyone, and you have to look at a system that sort of helps everyone.

"With the current system you can't rest a guy if the union is paying them, but hopefully we can sit down and get a module that works for everyone," he said.

It surely cannot be in the greater interest of South African rugby to have their most important assets putting themselves under increased risk of injury at the end of a taxing year, but unless the contracting system is changed there is little that can be done about it.

The unions can certainly not be blamed as they need their best players on the field for the end of the Currie Cup, but if it is allowed to carry on like this the attrition-rate at the highest level looks set to get even worse in the future.

De Villiers added: "I think it is about making sure that your top players are looked after, because those are the guys that are going to play every single week.

When I say top players I mean obviously your top 30 but then also Super Rugby players, your five teams that are competing in Super Rugby.

"So that is about 150 players - making sure that they can perform for you when needed because what is happening now, you are getting to play-offs and your top players aren't playing any more because they have been overworked to get there and that is not ideal," he said.

The onus must now surely rest with SARU, as unless they move quickly to adapt the current contracting system the Springboks do not have much hope of being able to compete consistently with the All Blacks.

By Michael de Vries

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