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Power of the pound hits SA Rugby

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South African rugby, despite all the “proactive” steps being taken, will continue to feel the pinch from the cash-flushed European clubs chasing their top stars.

Andy Marinos, the manager national teams at SA Rugby (the commercial arm of the South African Rugby Union – SARU), confirmed on Wednesday that they are aware of the reports of huge sums of money being flashed at many leading Springboks – to lure them to Europe after the World Cup later this year.

Marinos was reacting to reports that players like Bok captain John Smit, star flank Schalk Burger and ace lock Victor Matfield are being offered vast sums of money by European clubs – amounts that far exceed the best offers they can and will receive at home.

According to reports French giants Toulouse are offering Burger close to Euro1-million (about ZAR7-million), with English club Harlequins also in the race for his signature for not much less. Matfield is being chased by French club Toulon for similar amounts.

Reports claim as many as 10 of the country’s top Boks could be lost to the country after the World Cup – with the names of fly-half Butch James (Bath), as well as captain and hooker John Smit (Clermont-Avergne) thrown into the hat.

Already confirmed as leaving are Boks Percy Montgomery (fullback) and Gerrie Britz (utility forward) – who have both signed for Perpignan, according to a report on the club’s website on Wednesday.

Other players linked to moves abroad are wing Ashwin Willemse, centre Marius Joubert, midfielder Gcobani Bobo, loose forward Joe van Niekerk and prop Lawrence Sephaka.

Marinos said SA Rugby has been very “proactive” in the whole contractual issue, but the harsh reality is that South Africa can never compete with the strength of the British Pound or the Euro.

“We understand the landscape that we are operating in at the moment,” Marinos said.

He said that while the base retainers in Europe are very disproportionate to what the market in South Africa can offer, many players stand to lose the “huge earning potential off the field” they enjoy in South Africa – something very few of them would be able to retain once they head abroad.

Marinos said SA Rugby have been working “closely” with the five Super 14 franchises – where the majority of Boks are based – and the provinces.

“We are in the process of finalising the model, going forwards – building towards the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour and also building towards 2011 World Cup,” Marinos said.

“Yes, we are very aware of reports [of huge cash offers] and are in close contact with provinces as to the contractual status of their players and which players are coming off contracts. We are actively addressing those issues,” he said, adding that he’ll be meeting the players in the next couple of weeks to explain the process.

He pointed out that World Cup years are always a sensitive time.

“We’ve seen it in Australia and New Zealand where many of their players are also moving on after the World Cup. There is a natural attrition rate at the end of any World Cup – it seems to work in four year cycles.

“However, we haven’t been reactive, we’ve been proactive. We’ve identified that we’ve got a Lions tour coming up and we’ve got a core of what is a very young team full of potential. Realistically a lot of them will still be very much in their prime come the next World Cup. Our planning is going to be to work towards that.”

He admitted that SA Rugby will not be able to compete with the amounts bandied about.

“SA Rugby and the provinces are obviously very aware of the threats of guys that can leave.

“The reality is that even if SA Rugby, in conjunction with the provinces, made what we feel would be substantial or solid contract offers – the players are the ones that will have the final decision to make.

“The harsh reality is that we here in South Africa can ne

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