Former Springbok skipper John Smit says South Africa should rotate their PRO14 clubs
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 14/09/17 11:39am
Ex-Springbok hooker and World Cup winner John Smit believes the South African clubs in the PRO14 should be rotated every couple of years.
The Cheetahs and Kings both moved from Super Rugby to the PRO14 at the start of the current season and have struggled so far, losing all four games.
Smit, who earned 111 caps for South Africa, argues a shaky start is to be expected for the pair such is the contrast in playing styles between the two hemispheres.
The 39-year-old added that he would like to see South Africa's representatives in the PRO14 change every few years, and not be set in stone.
"I'm a big fan of a move north and selfishly I think South Africa has the ability to play on both sides," Smit said on The Offload on Sky Sports.
"The problem we have is that we've got six teams, and we can't afford six teams. The Kings and the Cheetahs are going to struggle for year one and year two.
"The unfortunate thing is that they are the two weakest teams and the two teams with the smallest budgets in South Africa.
"I think to make it stronger [South Africa's presence], we need to make the [South African] teams playing in the PRO14 competitive. The Kings and the Cheetahs will get better and they'll learn because it's a very different style.
"The Kings survived in Super Rugby because there is a far different emphasis on set-piece and defence, so here they are going to get exposed.
"But when they bolster up those squads it will be better, and why not possibly rotate those teams? Why should it only be the Cheetahs and Kings that we get to see in the northern hemisphere?
"Let's give them two seasons and in year two give them a few more players and then we start rotating. One year we have the Kings and Cheetahs and the next the Sharks and Bulls."
As well as the movement of South African clubs north, South African players have been moving to Europe in increased numbers over the last few years.
There are now over 300 professional players from South Africa plying their trade throughout Europe's leagues. What does Smit think is the reason for such a mass exodus and is it harmful for world rugby?
"For us [South Africa], there's a number of factors that influence this [players exits]," he added. "There's a currency issue in terms of the volatility of our Rand, and there's the volatility of our country itself, with it being a work in progress and a young democracy still finding its feet.
"There are so many reasons for an up-and-coming youngster who thinks he might not get there to take an option that is quite lucrative and brings him to an unbelievable northern hemisphere with great teams and great coaching.
"For us, the problem is that we have too many players. We've got 600 odd professional rugby players in South Africa, which is more than double what we should have, with also over 300 players playing abroad.
"So the trouble with that is we have so many guys that are able to play and believe they've got the ability to make a living out of the game.
"The difficulty is that in the past rugby was all about tradition and a team vibe and playing for the jersey, and those things still exist in the top teams, but the longer we are a professional sport the more chance there is to get confused between the emotion and guilt of wanting to represent our nation and the obligation to try and do what you can when you can.
"We've probably got ourselves to blame from a SANZAAR point of view because we've allowed Super Rugby to fade a little bit.
"We've taken up too many teams and we've diluted the product to a degree where you almost know 25 per cent of the results before turning the television on, you can just see the mismatches.
"As broadcasting and the viewership goes down in the southern hemisphere the need for players to look elsewhere for finance and an opportunity becomes more.
"The Springboks are in Auckland this weekend and they're not playing in Eden Park, they're in Albany in a 22,000 seater and the reason given is because the All Blacks don't believe the Springboks can sell out Eden Park."
Ulster wing and 16-time capped All Black Charles Piutau insisted this week it was an "easy decision" to put supporting his family before a chance to chase further international honours.
Other players such as the Scarlets' Johnny McNicholl, whose rugby development was all in New Zealand, will soon have the chance to qualify for Wales on residency and Smit insists a transfer fee of some kind should be put in place for such a circumstance.
"I think we do sometimes forget that we're a very young professional sport," he said. "If we look at the likes of football and what happens globally, where anyone can play anywhere and still represent their country, that happened a long time ago.
"What needs to happen with rugby is almost about going back to square one because right now, I say, as South Africa we enter into contracts and players go: 'well hang on that doesn't work for me because it doesn't give the flexibility to change', well then people should have to pay a transfer fee as well as his contract.
"If everyone decides together that these are the rules and there's a genuine line of development of a player and he's going to be taken somewhere else, there needs to be some kind of transfer."