SA player drain continues

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer’s penchant for picking players based in Europe and Japan appears to have hastened the rush of promising players to lucrative foreign contracts. Senior Springbok players such as Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis and Duane Vermeulen have all been linked to moves in France post Rugby World Cup 2015.

Their migration is unsurprising in a World Cup year, but it’s the second tier of prominent players that are also starting to head to the door at a younger age. Former SA under-20 stars Jacques du Plessis from the Bulls and Steven Kitshoff of Western Province both announced they’d be moving to France later this year. Du Plessis, 21, a massive 2.01m, 119kg athlete, who was the 2010 Youth Olympics discus champion, will join up with former Bok coach Jake White at Montpellier.

Prop Kitshoff, 22, who was a member of the Junior Springbok team that won the World Championships in 2012, is heading to Bordeaux. Interestingly, as the Junior Springboks are SARU’s designated second team, neither player will be eligible to play for France, even if he qualifies through residency years from now. Veteran Bok lock Flip van der Merwe will also move to France post-World Cup, where he will join Clermont Auvergne.

Varsity Cup continues to innovate

The annual Varsity Cup, featuring eight top university teams kicked off on 9 February with a usual array of interesting and occasionally offbeat innovations. This year’s tournament features a ‘white card’, which allows a captain or coach to challenge a decision and have it referred to the TMO. Each team is only allowed two referrals – one in each half.

In other trial this year, the defensive scrum-half is not allowed to advance past the mouth of the scrum. The idea is to promote running rugby by giving the offensive scrum-half the chance to play the ball with less pressure. The Varsity Cup also uses two referees, which was introduced in 2014 and according to feedback from its debut season, has been a great success. The competition is becoming an important feeder into the provincial system in South Africa and in last year’s Currie Cup final between Western Province and the Golden Lions, 29 of the 44 players started their careers in the Varsity Cup.

Stormer: Allister Coetzee led Stormers to the Super Rugby final in 2010

Stormer: Allister Coetzee led Stormers to the Super Rugby final in 2010

WP lose coach and young lock

Western Province director of rugby Gert Smal announced that head coach Allister Coetzee would leave the union at the conclusion of the 2015 Super Rugby season. He will replace Gary Gold at Kobe Steel Kobelco in Japan after six years in charge of the Stormers and WP. In that time Coetzee led the Stormers to the Super Rugby final in 2010 and to the SA conference title in 2011 and 2012.

WP also won the Currie Cup twice on his watch in 2012 and 2014. John Dobson, the WP under-21 coach will become Currie Cup head coach in 2015.

In more disappointing news, 21-year-old lock Gerbrandt Grobler tested positive for the banned steroid Drostanolone during last year’s Currie Cup. He pleaded guilty to the charges in late January and was banned for two years by the South African Institute for Drugs Free Sport (SAIDS).

Super Rugby pre-season causes some injury concerns

Giant Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth was the most prominent player injured during a series of Super Rugby warm-up games played across the country in sweltering heat.

Etzebeth suffered a chest muscle injury and will miss the first three rounds of the competition, which starts on 13 February. Etzebeth, who is still only 23, has not started the tournament since his debut season in 2012. He missed nearly half of the 2013 campaign with a foot injury sustained in a pre-season match. And last year he sat out the entire tournament with a foot injury picked up playing for the Boks against France in November 2013.

On his feet: Eben Etzebeth has been injured

On his feet: Eben Etzebeth has been injured

Vermeulen takes the gongs

Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen walked away from the SA Rugby awards with an armful of gongs recently. The newly appointed Stormers skipper won the SA Player of the Year title, the Super Rugby Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year.

Bok flyhalf Handré Pollard scooped the Young Player of the Year award as well as the SA Under 20 Player of the Year.

List of winners:

Rugby Player of the Year: Duane Vermeulen

Young Player of the Year: Handré Pollard

Players’ Player of the Year: Duane Vermeulen (DHL Stormers, Springboks)

Springbok Sevens Player of the Year: Seabelo Senatla

SA Under-20 Player of the Year: Handré Pollard

Team of the Year: Western Province (Currie Cup)

Coach of the Year: Johann Ackermann (Golden Lions)

Super Rugby Player of Year: Duane Vermeulen (Stormers)

Vodacom Cup Player of the Year: Renaldo Bothma (Pumas)

Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year: Nizaam Carr (Western Province)

Try of the Year: Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje (Cheetahs v Crusaders, Super Rugby)