Player drain warning bells sound as 44th South African heads for England

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Former Springbok assistant coach Alan Solomons believes the arrival of yet another South African player in England should sound warning bells for the health of the reigning world champion’s domestic rugby product.

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According to the RugbyPass website, when 6-foot-10 Cheetahs lock JP du Preez arrives at Sale Sharks he will be the Manchester club’s 11th South African player and the 44th from Mzansi currently on the books of Premiership clubs.

So vast is the number of South African players currently in Europe that the Springboks management are now relying on Dublin-based Felix Jones, one of the Springboks’ assistant coaches, to keep in touch with squad players who will be vying for inclusion in the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions next year.

Solomons, the 70-year-old veteran Worcester Warriors director of rugby, has seven South African players in his own squad – the second highest contingent in the Premiership. That list is headed by Francois Hougaard and Francois Venter, while No 8 Cornell du Preez is now a Scotland player having been born in Port Elizabeth. 

Leicester and Harlequins have six South Africans each, while Newcastle boast four following their recent promotion to the top flight.

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Solomons said: “I don’t think it is healthy for a country to be losing that number of players. When players do leave it certainly does affect your domestic competition and South Africa is a breeding ground for good rugby players, but what is important is to have a blend between youth and experience. 

“That helps the development of young talent along with playing in strong competitions. Domestically, when there is such an outflow of players, then it affects the game.”

Solomons added there were some plusses as well for South African rugby, as highlighted by the return to Springboks colours of Faf de Klerk whose game markedly improved from operating in the English Premiership.  

Solomons said: “It is about getting the balance right and for us it is about having a core Worcester identity and the core come from our academy, which is fantastic. You also have that blend with players from outside, be it South Africa or New Zealand, because that diversity enriches the mix and makes you stronger. We have a good balance with players coming from outside.

“From a (South African) international perspective those players (outside the country) are playing at a high level, like Faf de Klerk and the three Du Preez brothers at Sale. With that good level of competition, we have seen how they were able to adjust and we saw that step up at the World Cup in Japan.”

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