Rugby - Springboks award contracts in bid to keep players home

South Africa have handed central contracts to 15 players they believe will be at the core of Springbok rugby this year and in the wake of a growing list of defections to lucrative club offers overseas.

Reuters
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Eben Etzebeth of the Stormers and South Africa (Reuters)

Emerging talent like Marcell Coetzee, Juan de Jongh, Eben Etzebeth and Pat Lambie were included, along with hooker Bismarck du Plessis who is recovering from a long-term injury.

The South African Rugby Union admits it is battling against the pull of offers to some its best players from clubs in England, France, Ireland and Japan.

"We've kept as many of our top players in South Africa as we could by awarding them national contracts, despite the powerful lure of the Pound, Euro and Yen," said SARU chief executive officer Jurie Roux in a statement on Wednesday.

"We worked hard to ensure the best possible deal is placed on the table for the players."

But six players - Andries Bekker, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Juandre Kruger, JP Pietersen and Morne Steyn - who will be leaving to play overseas in the next months, were not offered deals.

"All six of these players were going to receive contracts, but the fact that they have indicated that they have signed with overseas clubs or are planning to do so, has ruled them out of the reckoning," said Roux.

"Losing experienced players to overseas teams is not ideal, but it's their right to further their careers abroad, " added coach Heyneke Meyer, who faces a programme of 12 internationals from June to December.

Last week Meyer said players like Habana and Steyn would still be part of Springbok plans as their experience was vital to the team and he would not hesitate to use overseas-based players when available.

But with the next Rugby World Cup two years away he is expected to give more opportunity to his contract group.

"Most of these players showed last year they have what it takes to play for the Springboks and they can only get more experienced and improve further," Meyer added on Wednesday.

A further five contracts are still available and will be finalised in due course, SARU said.

Contracted players:

Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee (both Sharks), Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (both Stormers), Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis (both Sharks), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Francois Hougaard (Bulls), Pat Lambie, Tendai Mtawarira (both Sharks), Pierre Spies (Bulls), Francois Steyn (Sharks), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Stormers)

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