Brenden Nel – SuperSport
Cape Town – The Bulls’ contracting model of trying to buy up the best junior talent in the country is dead in the water, so much so that the Pretoria-based union may recruit less than a handful of schools stars this year as they try and offload up to 100 players off their books.
According to the supersport.com website, the change of leadership at Loftus Versfeld has had to confront some harsh realities, not least so that the Bulls have the most players’ on their books at the moment – 204 players on contract.
With only 28 of those contracted through the University of Pretoria, it leaves a massive 176 players on the books of the Pretoria-based union, something which is draining the resources of the province.
For instance, the Bulls contracted no less than 54 school leavers this past year, and then found out that SA Rugby had dumped the Under-19 competition, leaving these players rudderless.
The Bulls have been proactive, launching an amateur Volcano under-20 league where many of these players will join clubs and play club rugby during this time, but the sad reality is that almost 100 players on contract need to be offloaded.
Bulls Director of Rugby Alan Zondagh confirmed this state of affairs, saying the days of the Bulls luring players with lucrative junior contracts are long gone.
With SA Rugby changing its contracting model and less than half the professional players set to have contracts in 2020, the Bulls are currently actively looking for ways to offload some of the many players they have put on their books.
Zondagh and new CEO Alfons Meyer have been working tirelessly with their coaching staff to find a solution, but hard facts need to be faced in the coming months.
“We have different types of issues, we have the top players in this country all wanting to leave. We are fighting against the money situation and we have too many players contracted at this union at the moment. We have the most of anybody and we have just started cutting down, we still have the most.
Guys have a contract, so you can’t just cut them,” Zondagh explained.
“We are working on that every single day – Pote, myself and Alfons – and my other staff are also helping with the contracting now. We have a completely new recruitment model where all my coaches are involved, from Pote right down to the other coaches. They are all responsible to look at talent, locally and overseas so they all have responsibilities and specific jobs.
“Everybody is involved, it isn’t a case of you have a player arriving here and you don’t know why or a player leaves and you don’t know why he left. That has changed completely now and has started to run, but it will take time to sort this out.
“I’ve made a decision that if we send somebody away, a young player that is here and he is not going to be part of our new plan, I will make sure that we place him somewhere where he can carry on with his rugby, that is the least we can do. The parents sent their boy to us.”
Zondagh said there were discussions going on with other unions to take over the contracts of some players, but the reality is that the Bulls will probably only contract two or three players leaving school next year.
“We have a number of players we can loan and we are in discussion with other franchises in South Africa and teams overseas. People are always looking for players, but we must first decide who we must keep. The young boys who have arrived here, I don’t know them.
“So I don’t want to send you away and keep him and next year I wonder why I sent you away. We have to be very careful about this going forward now. I want to at least be sure that I am also sure. I can’t just go on a coach because the coach may not like you because you did something wrong in the past but you are a very good player. I want to be sure that these players must go and these must stay.
“We are trying to get our pipeline sorted out so we know that in the fullback position for instance, we’ve got these players and where we will have problems. We are still carrying on with our normal scouting at all the festivals but the chances are where we are sitting now, I wonder if we will contract two players from the bulls for the schools next year.”
“We have very good young centres that have arrived here, so why must I go and fetch another schoolboy centre and put him in the system here to do what? To play where? We don’t have SuperSport Challenge anymore, we don’t have under-19s anymore. We only have Super Rugby, Currie Cup and under-21. Boys can’t sit here and not play Super Rugby, it is not good for their development.”
Zondagh said the new contracting model would focus primarily on players who can take the step up to Super Rugby and not simply to win junior competitions.
“A lot of their contracts come to an end at the end of the year in any case. Those are not the problems, the problems are the ones you don’t want to have that have a contract to 2020 or 2021 and you know he isn’t going to play Super Rugby. The new emphasis will be that we are only interested in a player if he can play Super Rugby.
“If you go to Saracens as an Academy player, they don’t just get you there to have you in the Academy, they have players there that they think can play for Saracens. We have to change our mindset when it comes to that now.”
Tough times are ahead for the Bulls players, but the change has been agreed upon and the Bulls have committed themselves to helping those cut to find new homes.
Either way the new broom is sweeping clean, with major financial implications.