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5 Springboks released temporarily to French clubs

August 26, 2013

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa released flyhalf Morne Steyn, record try-scorer Bryan Habana and three other players from its squad on Monday to temporarily join their French clubs in the middle of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.

The five will rejoin the Springboks early next week in time for a game against Australia, the South African Rugby Union said.

SARU chief executive Jurie Roux insisted the decision to allow Steyn, wing Habana, scrumhalf Jano Vermaak, lock Juandre Kruger and prop Gurthro Steenkamp to travel to France during the championship was “unique” and “a once-off concession” to the clubs, but it’s the first sign that South Africa will have to deal with the commitments of a growing number of players to their foreign teams and conflicting seasons.

A number of top Springboks left South Africa this year for big-paying clubs in Europe and Japan and seven of the 23-man matchday squad that edged Argentina 22-17 in the Rugby Championship in Mendoza on Saturday are contracted to foreign clubs — an unusually high number for South African rugby which has previously kept most of its best players at home.

Roux said the five players let go after the Argentina win would rejoin the Springboks in Australia next Monday ahead of the meeting with the winless Australians in Brisbane on Sept. 7. South Africa plays world champion New Zealand a week later.

Roux said SARU had received requests to release them from both the players and their clubs.

“Most of these players recently joined the French league and although we could’ve opted to keep them with the squad to prepare for the Australasian leg, we decided to adhere to their requests to allow them to return to their clubs for matches this weekend,” Roux said.

Steyn, Habana, Vermaak and Kruger could debut for their new teams in week three of France’s Top 14 on Friday and Saturday before returning to national duty. Steyn has signed for Stade Francais, Habana has joined European champion Toulon, Vermaak is now with Toulouse and Kruger with Stade Metro. Front-rower Steenkamp joined Toulouse in 2011.

The French league season began Aug. 16, just a day before the southern hemisphere’s international season kicked off. The Rugby Championship runs through until Oct. 5, by which time the Top 14 will be into its ninth round of games.

The remaining Springboks will have three days off in South Africa before joining up again on Thursday.