So, let’s get one thing straight. Jean de Villiers, Munster’s South African international centre, is one heck of a nice guy, one of the most pleasant, affable, courteous and well-mannered young men you will find anywhere in world rugby.
I’m pleased to say Jean is a guy I’ve known for years and hugely admire. On Tri-Nations tours in Australia and New Zealand, on Springbok tours of the UK and Ireland and during home international series back in South Africa, I’ve had extensive dealings with the guy. Never once have I run into a snarling, insolent, up himself type of guy.
That’s because simply, it’s not the sort of person he is. He’s a role model for his sport and if all were half as well-mannered as him, this game would be a hell of a sight better than it is.
But having said all that, I also say this: Irish rugby must be absolutely crazy to have paid out a small fortune to bring Jean de Villiers here for a season.
This week’s announcement that the Springbok will be going home at the end of the northern hemisphere season this May, didn’t surprise me.
I knew that was likely to be the case months ago.
But given that it was common knowledge throughout South African rugby that even if de Villiers went overseas in 2009/10, he’d only stay one season because of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, what on earth was the IRFU doing sanctioning such a move?
Estimates as to de Villiers’ total pay package at Munster vary. But it is a safe and reliable indicator to work in the region of £300,000 for the package as a whole, maybe more.
And for me, Ireland must be off its head to have spent that money recruiting Jean de Villiers. It is money that could have been ploughed into the Irish game, not disappear into the pockets of another southern hemisphere star.
Again, this is nothing against Jean. He did what you or I would have done if confronted by such an offer. He gobbled it and why not?
But look at it from the other way round.
Is Irish rugby so cash-rich at the present time that it can afford to chuck around £300,000 at a single overseas player, maybe more? Is it so stuffed full of money that it can afford to see that player disappear off back home after less than 12 months over here?
Had de Villiers signed a two- or three-year contract and insisted he would stay that time come what may, it would have been a different story. At least then you could say, well, the guy is richly talented, hugely popular and he’ll do no end of good, on and off the field, in those years.
But De Villiers didn’t arrive here until late September/October, he couldn’t find his form and at one stage couldn’t even get into Tony McGahan’s starting line-up. Some price to pay, you might think, £300,000, for a guy to sit on the bench.
November was a wasteland because Munster were hardly playing, De Villiers was away on holiday in the Alps and otherwise occupied getting engaged. “It’s been wonderful to see several different parts of Europe,” he told me when we chatted after the Springboks had called him up as back-up prior to their Test match against Ireland in Dublin.
Well, that’s very nice. But can you work out how Munster were benefiting from this deal under those circumstances? For sure, I can’t.
OK, the Springbok was back in the Munster side for their January Heineken Cup matches. But now we’ve got the 6 Nations and provincial rugby has again taken a back seat.
March is here in nine days time and May isn’t far off. Then Jean bids farewell.
If any of this sounds to you like money well spent, then we’d better agree to differ. Personally, I think this case ought to be a watershed in how Ireland handles all these overseas players.
If another South African, Johann Muller, commits to Ulster for three years, that’s a different story. He’s unlikely to be part of their World Cup plans which means he can devote himself to Ulster.
But it was never going to be like that in the case of Jean de Villiers.
Thus, to spend such fantastic sums on a player for less than one year and then see him rush home, represents careless, wanton use of the IRFU’s money, to my way of thinking.
And if Ireland’s coffers are awash with cash when they have a new multi-million euro stadium to pay for, I’d be amazed.
They really shouldn’t be able to squander money on overseas stars like this in such a ridiculously cavalier manner.