South Africans continue to make a massive impression on English rugby with as many as 42 on the books at ten of the 12 Premiership teams this season.
Sale have ten and are captained by Johannesburg native Jono Ross. Worcester, coached by Alan Solomons from the Eastern Cape province, have seven. Only Bristol Bears and London Irish are without a Saffa this year. For markets and premium offers on the Premiership, Autumn Nations Cup and Tri-Nations visit bonuscodebets.co.uk.
“The impact South Africans have had on English rugby is immense,” says Schalk Brits, the high-energy hooker who represented Saracens 216 times across a trophy-laden nine year stint.
“We’re everywhere. We were concentrated at Saracens and now they’re concentrated at Sale, but just about every team has one.
“It hasn’t been a one-way street though,” Brits adds. “The players have benefitted too and so have the Springboks as a result. Look at the way Faf de Klerk’s kicking game has improved.”
The reasons for this glut are multifaceted but two key factors stand out. The first has to do with the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union.
The Kolpak ruling, more famous for its links with cricket, has allowed South Africans to circumnavigate the Premiership’s cap on overseas players through a free trade agreement that now hangs in the balance as Brexit looms. Australians, for example, do not benefit from this.
The second, as Brits explains, is down to a favourable rand-pound exchange rate.
“We’re cheap,” he says. “You get a lot of bang for your buck when you pick up a South African who just loves the contest. We’re proud rugby players and we want to prove to our teammates and opposition that we can hang at this level.
“We may not be wearing the Springbok colours but there is a sense that you’re still representing your country.”
Brits is cautious against stereotyping his countrymen, but there is an obvious bias concerning which type of South African is more sought after by English clubs. Of the 42 players active this season, 30 are forwards.
“Look at Sale, apart from Faf, they’re all big boys,” Brits says. “When I arrived, I wouldn’t say I felt pressure but people do look to you to make a difference in the collision. That’s what we’re known for. Just about every South African who comes to England is expected to add muscle to the team. That was definitely the case at Sarries.”
With that added muscle, Saracens built a dynasty that claimed four league titles, one domestic cup and three European Cups. Now at Sale, South Africans have added grunt to Steve Diamond’s vision and helped secure the club’s first trophy in 14 years with victory in the Premiership Cup final.