Boks will be at full strength for Lions

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The Independent Online

South Africa will be at full strength for the next year's British and Irish Lions tour, even though the national contracts of 13 players are set to expire at the end of December.

That is the message from SA Rugby Players Association (Sarpa) chief executive, Piet Heymans, who is confident none of the current crop of Springboks will leave to play in Europe before the tour.

However, the Sarpa boss did not rule out the possibility of some of the players leaving for pastures new after the three-Test series, adding that some may even consider not signing contracts this month and instead prefer to be compensated from match funds.

Heymans told the Beeld newspaper: "We expect the players will sign and that we won't have any issues.

"There might be one or two players who will follow this (match fund) option. Maybe they want the freedom to go play somewhere else after the Lions tour.

"But in general players are going to contract themselves to SA Rugby."

Heymans refused to specify which players he believed may turn down contracts, saying there was plenty of incentive for signing new deals.

He continued: "We concluded an agreement with regards to match pay with SA Rugby in September 2007.

"This provides for certain escalations year on year and players will therefore earn more."

As for the possibility of some of the overseas-based Springboks making themselves available for the series, Heymans added: "I don't know if any players are considering it.

"The reality is that players in Europe are earning very good money and we simply cannot compete with that.

"Players who have Springbok contracts also have to sign a provincial contract to make it worth their while and even though a player holds two contracts, they still earn more in Europe."