Damian Willemse. Picture: ASHLEY VLOTMAN / GALLO IMAGES
Damian Willemse. Picture: ASHLEY VLOTMAN / GALLO IMAGES

Western Province have gone on the offensive to discredit a report that claims Damian Willemse is a R5m per annum burden on their salary bill.        

The union, through head coach John Dobson and board chair Ebrahim Rasool, also voiced their displeasure with news reports about their star player‚ what he earns and what he is worth.

A report appeared at the weekend suggesting Willemse‚ who had been courted by the Bulls (with a R3.8m carrot no less)‚ opted to stay in the Cape after he was offered a package in excess of R5m a year.

“There is a line that is crossed when you do that [salary speculation] and get it wrong‚” said Rasool. “It has implications for the players and it has implications for the cohesion of the squad.”

Dobson added: “We want to protect the sanctity of what the players earn.”

Reporting on players’ salaries or what was paid to hire them has long been fair game in sports like football that have a longer relationship with big money and professionalism than rugby has.

Moreover‚ salaries are a topical issue given the impact the pandemic has had on rugby, especially against the backdrop of the industry’s savings plan in which SA Rugby shaved more than R1bn off their budget. Some of those cutbacks include salaries.

Dobson has a problem with both the principle and the detail. “His cost to WP is considerably less than that. His total, including the players of national interest contribution which SA Rugby is at pains to protect‚ doesn’t total anything [like] that was published‚” said Dobson.

The story‚ written by an experienced journalist‚ also became the basis for an opinion piece by another scribe. That too raised the ire of Dobson and Rasool.

Some may argue that you have semantics at play here as there is a disparity between what WP pay Willemse and what he ends up earning through SA Rugby and bonuses.

“Whatever Damian earns he deserves. He is a guy we really‚ really wanted to keep here‚” said Dobson.

He argued that their recruitment policy‚ in no doubt difficult times‚ is measured and well thought out. “We can’t be throwing the money [the speculated amount] at all these players‚” said the coach.

Dobson said WP did well to retain talent while managing to stay 15.3% under their salary cap. “I am very happy with the squad we have retained and in no way or at any stage has it been through reckless use of the chequebook.”

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