Ulster’s former Springbok number 15, Stefan Terblanche believes the Irish provinces will remain an attractive proposition for overseas players even if the IRFU stick to its plan to squeeze the number of non-Irish qualified talent.
The Irish Union published their controversial plans last year and among the stipulations was the insistence that overseas players would not be able to extend their stay on Irish shores after their initial contract expires.
“It depends on where your career is personally,” said Terblanche, who was persuaded to postpone his retirement to join Ulster this season.
“Some players only want to come over for two or three years towards the end of their career, some are leaving South Africa because they feel they’ve got a better chance of playing international rugby coming to Ireland, England or France. There’s a lot of South Africans qualified to play for England now.
“I think Ireland is a great option for any player to come to, be it for two or three years. It’s a wonderful place to play rugby and no-one can complain about the competitiveness or rugby quality of the country because it’s improved so much.”
Terblanche faced some hoops he had to jump through before he was allowed to join Ulster Rugby. The IRFU’s Player Academy Group had to give the green light as did the UK Border Agency who insist on applicants sitting a language test.
Although Afrikaans is Terblanche’s first language; his grasp of English is exemplary and the only real concern was the waiting list for the test. In the end, it all took six weeks but the wait was well worth it given the impact he has had at full back having replaced Kiwi Jared Payne, who had suffered a season ending injury. Terblanche has also found Ulster a wonderful place and has made considerable efforts to immerse in the local culture and history.
At 36, it was an unexpected and rewarding postscript to an already enriching career and he believes that the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara should not rule out a similar move abroad as they too approach their mid-30s.
“It’s a personal thing. If you want to stay and finish your career where you started – I have never had the opportunity to play rugby in my hometown where I grew up – then that must be the best rugby experience ever.
“But I would never not advise players to just go and experience something different for a bit.”
It’s a frightening thought for supporters of Munster and Leinster but Charlie McCreevy’s tax rebate for sports people who finish their careers in Ireland is just one reason why some of Ireland’s 30-somethings are unlikely to follow Terblanche’s path.