The lure of kids and Euros
The other day I heard a story that would grow hair on a billiard ball. My spies told me that Sharks' scrumhalf Michael Claassens was the father of five children under the age of three.
It can't possibly be, I said, but a few months after hearing the tale I tracked Michael down at Kings Park. Was it true, I asked You better believe it, he said. Actually the eldest is now past her third birthday, but for the sake of posterity, here's what Michael had to say.
"We struggled for three years to conceive. Eventually my wife, Helen-Ann, went for an operation and they said she had symptoms akin to an early menopause. They said basically she was a 45-year-old woman in the body of a 28 year old and that she wouldn't be able to conceive naturally.
"So she went for IVF [in vitro fertilisation] and Joco, our first daughter, arrived three years and four months ago. We wanted another child so she had a second IVF, but nothing happened. You have to wait a few months before you can have the treatment again and during that time she fell pregnant naturally, which according to the original doctor was impossible!
"So off we went to the gynaecologist for a scan and it was twins, so now we had three kids under two and it was quite hectic. So Michael and Anique joined us and, that was enough, we thought, but a few months after they were born Helen-Ann fell pregnant naturally again!
"So off we went for another scan and I said, you know what, I think it's also twins. And it was. A boy and a girl again, Boden and Tegan. I wanted to retire, but I have to play for another five years now!"
So think of that when next you see Michael in the Sharks jersey and you dare to think that perhaps he's too old!
In fact he's in great shape and can look back on a career with many highs. He made his Cheetahs debut in 2003 and played the last of his eight test matches against New Zealand in 2007. He left South Africa to join Bath and in six seasons he clocked up 164 appearances. Then he spent two seasons in France with Toulon before signing for the Sharks.
So I thought it was logical to ask Michael what he thought of the recent decision by the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to ban Springbok representation for overseas based players who have fewer than 30 test caps under their belt.
He said, "My own feeling is that the best players should play. If you're going to have a 30-cap rule then you have to reward the guys that stay here in South Africa. If they don't make it worth it for a guy you can understand why he would go overseas."
And there's the rub. Money is always the sticking point and until we are able to address that problem, the lure of the pound and the Euro will never go away.