Sharks hooker Burden backs Pollard's French sojourn

Kyalami - After spending several years playing rugby in France, Sharks hooker Craig Burden says Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard's decision to join French club Montpellier after the Rugby World Cup is an experience he will never regret.

READ: Bulls CEO: We can't fault Pollard's decision to leave

"Handre is going to a great team with great facilities. It's a huge club and there are a lot of South Africans there. Your rugby career doesn't last forever, so when these opportunities do arise it’s important to experience it," said Burden, who this year rejoined the Sharks after several years with French clubs Toulon, Montpellier and Stade Français.

There is renewed debate around the growing number of South African rugby players being lured overseas following news of the latest batch of departures spearheaded by Pollard.

But Burden, speaking at a Vodacom Red Track Day Experience at Kyalami where he joined several other sports stars in being treated to an exclusive Ferrari driving experience, said playing overseas enriched his rugby career and is well worth considering if the opportunity presents itself.

"In Europe there are a lot of foreign players that bring their style to the game there. You learn a heck of a lot playing with other international players. In my first year there I was playing with Carl Hayman, Andrew Sheridan, Martin Castrogiovanni and Bakkies Botha when he was there. It’s just a fantastic experience and great to have it as part of your rugby career," he said.

"But I wouldn't say it's a case of going over to greener pastures. I didn't view it that way. For me it was an experience, and an important one to have. I was there for six years but home was always South Africa and it's fantastic to be back at the Sharks. But I think it's important to go abroad and experience a different rugby culture and bring that back here."

Stormers hooker Ramone Samuels, who also attended the Vodacom Red Track Day, said he couldn't fault the top players for moving to overseas clubs after the Rugby World Cup.

He believes it's a trend that could change in the future under Rassie Erasmus' new contracting model for South African rugby, and his vision to use the money in the local game to broaden the talent base here rather than try and compete with the richer European clubs.

"These are big names that are going over, but the rugby model has changed and they can still play for the Springboks. So all is not lost. I think the current group of players that are leaving can justify the move at this point in their careers. Players are looking for different challenges, and the rugby public should accept that people are moving on. We can't compete with the European unions financially and keep the players here. But I think with the model that Rassie Erasmus is putting together for SA Rugby, in five to 10 years we will be able to keep our players," said Samuels.

Blue Bulls winger Duncan Matthews said he has had personal experience of the anguish some players face in making the decision to stay playing in South Africa or travel overseas.

"I was involved in the discussion with two of my really good friends, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Pierre Schoeman. They had to make that decision. Rohan told me his dream was to play 100 caps for the Springboks, but there was too much uncertainty for him. He had to make that decision to secure his future. It was the same with Pierre. It's sad to have to make that decision because I know that as a rugby-playing kid growing up in South Africa, you want to play for the Springboks."

According to Matthews, it's a discussion that's becoming ever more prevalent among the players.

"It's a big discussion. It's become a norm when players talk about their future. I know so many rugby players that played professional rugby but now have nothing at the end of their careers. It's about securing your future, and for South Africans that is going overseas because you can earn so much more. You need to be realistic and think about the rugby player as a human being who also needs to secure his future."