Rugby Talking Point: Enough already, where’s the global season?

rugby23 January 2024 07:39| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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There was an interesting podcast that crossed my path the other day featuring the Hollywoodbets Sharks’ South African-born American owner Marco Massotti that pushed the question of that much sought-after but elusive global season to the forefront of the mind.

Massotti made several good points during the discussion on “To the last drop”, and what was clear was that he wasn’t happy with SA Rugby for what he felt, to paraphrase it, should be more give from that organisation in a give and take relationship. And it is a topical point right now, for home-based Springboks, who mostly just happen to be Sharks, are heading into an eight-week mandatory break that has been decreed by the national management.

The Vodacom Bulls Boks have gone more than halfway through their break as their director of rugby Jake White felt it more expedient to have his four national players take their leave in the period that followed the Christmas derby against the DHL Stormers. That made a lot of sense given the games the Bulls play over the period in question - White clearly felt the two Investec Champions Cup games could be won without Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Marco van Staden and Willie le Roux, though the latter was involved in the most recent game against Bordeaux Begles because his leave has been split into two on request.

White was proved right on that score, and my money says his men will be able to get the better of the Emirates Lions in their Vodacom United Rugby Championship derby this coming weekend without those players too. The Bulls’ Boks are arguably less crucial to the Pretoria team than the eight Boks on the Durban franchise’s books are to the Sharks, and to a much lesser extent the Stormers.


The Stormers, like the Bulls, haven’t chased marquee signings, and both of those franchises have been much shrewder in the first years of the URC in their contracting than the Sharks have. So while there is sympathy for Massotti’s view expressed on the podcast “that we were paying for eight of our players to be at the World Cup”, and his unhappiness that his franchise is seeing less of their players than he’d like them to, he did surely know what he was signing up for.

The national rugby team comes first for SA Rugby, and South African rugby as a whole, and it is why the Boks have just won two World Cups in succession. It is a successful model that took its cue from New Zealand’s prioritisation of the All Blacks.

When the Stormers’ equity deal was finalised recently, the comments made by Stormers coach John Dobson were interesting. He made it clear that the fact that his franchise now has money wouldn’t mean they’d go out on a big spending spree and bring in big-name players just for the sake of it. He seemed to be suggesting others might have got that one wrong.

Apart from anything else, he knows that he will only get to see his Boks for a portion of the season. The same holds for White. Both franchises have worked on building depth without being too focused on big name buys, and it is why they have been in front of the Sharks in the first two seasons of the URC and will end up ahead of them this season too.


There’s a connectedness between the contracting and the coaches and what the coaches need at the Stormers and Bulls that John Plumtree is trying to get to at the Sharks but there hasn’t been up to now. Or at least not for the decade since Plumtree last worked for the Sharks. There is a science to recruiting, you don’t just go out and buy a guy because he’s an international player, you need to assess whether he will fit, as Plumtree no doubt did before signing Frederik Michalak during his previous stint in Durban.

There has been a lot of fuss about the buys the Bulls have made but for me, their best buy wasn’t double World Cup winner Willie le Roux but the two front-row forwards, Wilco Louw and Akker van der Merwe, and Devon Williams.

The first two plug a gap that needed to be filled, Williams brings depth and ensures the Bulls are well covered and don’t have to change too much on the days Le Roux is away with the Boks. And there is actually another, Mpilo Gumede, who was lured from the Sharks, where he didn’t appear to be backed in the same way that White is backing him.

As for the Stormers, two of their World Cup-winning Boks, Deon Fourie and Manie Libbok, are players who weren’t anywhere near the Springbok team when they were contracted. And their best most recent buy might well be Hendre Stassen, who with every appearance in the Stormers jersey looks more and more a likely star once he’s got proper momentum after four years away from the sport.

Instead of complaining about the periods when the Boks have been away, the Stormers and Bulls have used those periods to build their depth. Well, not so much the Bulls last year, when they stuck too much with the same team, but they learnt from that mistake and are doing it now. The Sharks’ current selection policy is a little confounding - surely the Challenge Cup, which features mostly second rate opposition, certainly in the pool phases, should be used to grow depth? Instead the Sharks are putting out the same team each week, and it’s their strongest one.


The Sharks’ policy may be understandable though from the perspective of where they ended up after a disastrous opening month of the season which featured four losses on tour. They found themselves in a situation where they just needed a win, any win, to settle them.

It was a nightmare start to the schedule, with away games against URC champions Munster and then Leinster. Those were games that needed the Boks to be present.

Had the Sharks’ Boks been involved then, Plumtree’s start as coach might have been a lot smoother than it was, and we might be having a different conversation about the Sharks than the one we are having.

Plumtree felt the blanket ban on World Cup squad members from playing in the period immediately after that was wrong, and he may have had a point there too. Jaden Hendrikse, although he’d been with the Boks in France, had played very little rugby for several months and might have helped his team win their first home game against Connacht instead of losing it by the smallest of margins. Had that happened, what followed might have turned out differently.

But when it comes to the eight-week rest the Bulls Boks are completing and the Stormers and Sharks Boks are going into (the Emirates Lions don’t have any current Boks), there cannot be any debate about the validity of it. The problem of course is that while South Africa is committed to a northern season at franchise level, at international level they are still on a southern schedule, with the Castle Lager Rugby Championship set to be played during the two months - August and September - when the northern players will be in their off-season.


At a time when it is also becoming increasingly apparent that the concept of less is more might be the only solution to the threat to the sport posed by the massive issues around concussion, it is possible to speculate that the penny may well drop that even eight weeks isn’t enough of a break.

You can’t play players all year round and expect them to perform optimally and if Massotti demanded a year-round on-field playing commitment from his players then he’d be undermining his own investment.

And with the Currie Cup set to be played in August this year, meaning what should be the South African off-season, it is understood that even those rank-and-file players who will be used in the domestic competition have to have an eight-week mandatory rest at some point. When do they have that if it is not going to impact their participation in the URC and Champions Cup?

The franchises/provinces know this and need to contract accordingly, but it’s a mess that has a ready solution, the one I started this piece off with - a global season needs to be established.

That appears to be logical to everyone except to the people involved with World Rugby and others who can affect the change. A global season will create much clearer windows of when international players can play club rugby and when they can’t. And it will also protect rugby’s most valuable asset - the players.

Come on, enough already, there’s no logical reason why rugby didn’t switch to a global season ages ago. It should have happened when the sport went professional in the mid-1990s.