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Springbok exodus set to continue into France



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Frederic Michalak is an anomaly in the migration patterns, the maverick outside-half the sole French player moving to South Africa to play while hundreds of Boks head the other way.

It now seems almost voguish that every French rugby team have at least a couple of South Africans on their books, thriving in the high-octane world of the Top 14 and the relaxed lifestyle France offers away from the training paddock.

Former Cats flanker Gerhard Vosloo, now playing with Castres, said there were no cliques at his club between foreigners and French nationals.

“For me, that’s a false debate. I get on well with everybody,” he said, expressing his delight at living in France.

“I’d had enough of the traffic jams between Centurion and Johannesburg.

“South Africa is at the end of the world. Here in the south of France, everything is close, the sea, the mountains, other countries. I love my life here in France.” Vosloo, 28, arrived in France with his wife and two children, and has aspirations to play for his adopted homeland in the same way Stade Francais prop Pieter de Villiers and centre Brian Liebenberg have done.

“It’s a dream but also a goal,” he said. “It’s my second season. I have to wait for the third season to be eligible. Maybe.” Indeed, there is a raft of players who will qualify for France in the years to come, most notably perhaps Toulouse No 8 Shaun Sowerby, who has been in outstanding form for his new club after signing from Stade Francais.

Another is former Bulls lock Cliff Milton, who played under new Springbok coach Peter de Villiers in the U-21 World Cup-winning side in 2005 but who was second fiddle to Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha in South Africa.

“There have been a few influential people mentioning me as an option for France in a couple of years and the French public seem to want me to stay and play a part with the national side,” Milton told South African rugby website keo.

“It’s certainly an option and I will consider playing for France when that time comes (in two years). To play for the Boks will always be my goal but, again, if France approach me the choice will be pretty simple.” Alongside these uncapped South Africans are the capped Springboks who have traded in their life at home for lucrative contracts with the well-funded French clubs.

Sowerby plays alongside Daan Human and Gaffie du Toit at Toulouse, while Percy Montgomery, Gerrie Britz and Ashwin Willemse turn out for Perpignan.

World Cup-winning skipper Jon Smit and centre Marius Joubert play at Clermont, and second division side Toulon have managed to snare Matfield and prop Lawrence Sephaka as well as reuniting Matfield with Botha, their latest high profile recruit.

The South African Rugby Union lifted its own ban on overseas-based players not being eligible for national selection, and a further exodus is predicted if coach de Villiers selects players plying their trade in European leagues.

Financially speaking, South Africans stand to make a lot of money coming to play in France, with Michalak, for example, even taking a pay cut in comparison to what he was paid at Toulouse to play in South Africa.

The South African Rugby Players Association recently estimated that 70 percent of professionals playing in South Africa earn less than 300,000 rand (26,300 euros) a year.

Only nine percent earn more than 500,000 rand (43,830 euros) and three percent more than 800,000 rand (70,140 euros) a year, a far cry from the sponsor-heavy French clubs which often also benefit from wealthy benefactors who are willing to make up any salary shortfalls.

Either way, there are little South African colonies now firmly ensconsed throughout France and while many seem happy to have exchanged boerewoers for boudin sausages, many still pine for some elements from home.

“I really like life here,” said Stade Francais lock Boela du Plooy.

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