In Search Of Foreign Bodies

By Dick van Dyk

When is a foreigner not a foreigner? It’s apparently a question of the utmost concern, not, as you would imagine, with South Africa’s department of home affairs (who are incapable of providing an answer unless large amounts of Randelas are involved) but with those awfully clever chaps who run the country’s rugby police force, SARU.

Now, as we all know, for the purposes of sport, international boundaries, political affiliations and other globally accepted norms and standards don’t apply. So when you would think that only a person born in a country could represent that country in the international sporting arena, you’d be, um, rather wrong. Think Zola Budd. Or, if you prefer rugby analogies, Manu Tuilagi or Toby Faletau.

Manu-TuilagiWhere’s my bangers & mash?!

Indeed, when considering Samoa and Tofua (part of Tonga) where Messrs Tuilagi and Faletau were respectively born and raised, one has to admit that they are about as English and Welsh as Mike Tyson is intelligent. Dear old Zola at least had a soutie for a grandfather.

Toby FaletauBut how can you think I’m not Welsh?

Importing talent, then, for the purposes of beefing up your national squad, is thoroughly acceptable. But heaven forbid you should do it to bolster your Vodacom SupeRugby side. After all, we are talking SupeRugby here. The single most important tournament in the entire world. Or so Sanzar would have us believe. IRB Rugby World Cup? Pah. Anyone can play for a national side. But let one too many “foreign” types take to the Vodacom SupeRugby field (yes, I am still after that blerry prize from Vodacom, even though I am clueless as to what it may be) and Jurie Roux, CEO of SARU, has a fit of the frothies.

Dear old Jurie and his cohorts in rugby’s corridors of power like to flex their muscles just so that the rugby playing world remembers just how terribly important SARU is. After all, these are the incredibly gifted men who gave the world Peter de Villiers. And who told the Lions that they just weren’t good enough for Vodacom SupeRugby (perhaps someone should fess up to the Rebels?) and that the Southern Kings were deserving of a chance.

But when it comes to geography and issues of nationality, Jurie and his mense in groen and gold evidently can like to look stupid. Which is why Cheeky Watson has been taking the piss with a big fat smile on his face. Guilty of fielding one too many “foreign” players for SARU’s liking (among them the Argentinian Tomas Leonardi and Frenchman Virgil Lacombe) Cheeky has had to eat humble pie and recall said offending uitlanders from the Kings’ touring side in New Zealand, claiming confusion over whether an Argentinian man is considered foreign for the purposes of Vodacom SupeRugby.

Cheeky-Watson    I can’t tell you guys how lekker it is to be skelm.

It may sound like a silly excuse, but let’s consider Cheeky’s point of view. Irrespective of whether his tongue has been wedged firmly in Cheeky’s cheek (forgive the pun), we do have an Argentinian team (the Pampas) competing in the Vodacom Cup – South Africa’s domestic competition for players who can’t quite cut the mustard at a higher level (yet, or permanently). Perhaps Mr Roux and those fine fellows who make up the SARU executive misunderstood the term “domestic” when they let that one through?

Whose rule is this anyway? The Australian and New Zealand sides are packed with people of dubious descent. Pacific Islanders swap nationalities at the drop of a hat. Samoa has been independent from New Zealand since 1962 but that doesn’t stop Samoans playing for the All Blacks! New Zealand only lets 1100 Samoans a year into the country, but evidently is happy to move the goalposts when it comes to rugby.

Clyde Rathbone famously jumped ship to the Wallabies when it became apparent he wouldn’t get a Springbok call-up. He’d represented SA at schools and junior level and had even led the Baby Boks to victory in the 2002 U21 Rugby World Cup. But his dad’s mom was born in Australia. The rest is not just history but another example of how immigration policies are easily bypassed where sporting prowess is concerned.

Clyde-RathboneYou wanna talk politics?!

The bottom line in all of this is that SARU, the organisation which so famously sold out to Vodacom SupeRugby organising body SANZAR because money ALWAYS trumps integrity in both politics and sport (yes, there is still a subtle difference), is the champion of double standards and master of the art of covering its own, suitably plump backside. It’s been pandering to the mighty chequebook wielded by SANZAR for years now, and once you’ve been wined, dined, suitably rogered and paid for the pleasure you kind of get addicted to it. SARU is nothing more than the high-class hooker of southern hemisphere rugby (and that doesn’t mean that Meneer Roux and his tjommies all wear shirts with a No 2 on the back) and that more-or-less precludes it from the moral high ground.

What’s more, SARU jumped into bed with Cheeky Watson without the formalities of dinner and a good bottle of vino, dumping the GLRU quicker than you can say “pass the condom” in the process. Perhaps sports minister Fikile Mbalula isn’t quite the pimp the press would have us believe he is? But then he’s from the Free State, and you can’t get more foreign than that!

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