CHEE­TAHS, KINGS ex­clu­sion a win-win situation

Fran­chises’ early exit an am­i­ca­ble depar­ture with sim­i­lar com­pen­sa­tion on the cards in north­ern ven­ture

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­

The Chee­tahs and the Kings, who agreed three sea­sons too early to part ways with Su­per Rugby as part of the re­duc­tion in num­bers of the teams play­ing in the tour­na­ment, stand to be com­pen­sated fi­nan­cially by roughly the same amount in their new ven­tures as they did in the south­ern hemi­sphere com­pe­ti­tion.

Af­ter pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly with the Chee­tahs, SA Rugby’s word­ing in its press re­lease on Fri­day said the two fran­chises had “ear­lier in­formed SA Rugby of their in­ten­tion to ex­plore al­ter­na­tive play­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in other in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions”.

An SA Rugby in­sider con­firmed that the “in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions” would be the Pro 12 tour­na­ment in Europe, as widely spec­u­lated by the me­dia not long af­ter the South Africa, New Zealand, Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina Rugby or­gan­i­sa­tion de­cided to cull three teams – two from South Africa and one from Aus­tralia.

But the de­ci­sion wasn’t reached with­out re­sis­tance from the Chee­tahs, who sought le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion as they still had a con­tract to play Su­per Rugby un­til 2020.

And, af­ter lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions this week, they re­lented when pre­sented with the com­pa­ra­bil­ity of the fi­nances in the move up north.

“The con­tract was the stick­ing point, but, once they saw that eco­nom­i­cally they wouldn’t be done in when they be­came aware of the num­bers of mov­ing to Pro 12, they re­alised they were not at an eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage,” said the of­fi­cial.

The source, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said had the Chee­tahs, “who had a strong case be­cause their con­tract could have been en­force­able”, been ex­cluded from Su­per Rugby with­out the cush­ion of the Pro 12 com­pe­ti­tion, they “could have claimed for the dis­tri­bu­tion due to them un­til 2020”.

Said share for par­tic­i­pat­ing in Su­per Rugby is about R34 mil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, which would have meant SA Rugby part­ing with about R102 mil­lion. It’s not quite the same case with the Kings, whose par­tic­i­pa­tion this year was ba­si­cally paid for by SA Rugby.

While it may have not come out of ideal cir­cum­stances, the move will achieve sev­eral things for South African rugby. Be­sides the money for two teams who need it, the fran­chises are guinea pigs of a sort for whether South African par­tic­i­pa­tion in north­ern hemi­sphere com­pe­ti­tions is bet­ter than a Su­per Rugby tour­na­ment in which they have al­ways been slighted, de­spite bring­ing in the most rev­enue.

A cagey Chee­tahs man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Harold Ver­ster said they were “ex­cited by the news” and gave credit to SA Rugby chief ex­ec­u­tive Jurie Roux for his fore­sight and as­sis­tance in fa­cil­i­tat­ing an al­ter­na­tive route for the two teams.

When asked if he was happy with the fi­nan­cial as­pects of the deal, he only said: “We’ve reached a very am­i­ca­ble solution with SA Rugby, which will keep us on the same level as Su­per Rugby on ev­ery level.”

Ver­ster also re­vealed that part of the ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment in­cluded SA Rugby help­ing the two fran­chises with ex­tra play­ers and coach­ing for the first year of their ven­ture.

He wouldn’t be drawn on any details other than that the fran­chises’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in Pro 12 will be an­nounced on Satur­day, the day af­ter the Chee­tahs and the Kings play their last Su­per Rugby game – against each other.

The com­pe­ti­tion proper – which features teams from Ire­land, Wales, Scot­land and Italy and is spon­sored by Guin­ness and broad­caster Sky Sports – be­gins next month and con­cludes in May, mean­ing it will over­lap with the Cur­rie Cup un­til the end of October.

The ad­di­tion of the Chee­tahs and the Kings will ne­ces­si­tate a name change to Pro 14 af­ter a €12 mil­lion (R183 mil­lion) in­crease in TV money into the com­pe­ti­tion, with those al­ready in the tour­na­ment get­ting €500 000 more to cover the costs of ac­com­mo­dat­ing the South African sides.

The com­pe­ti­tion will be played along the lines of two con­fer­ences of seven, with three teams au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fy­ing for the knock­out stages, and the top two teams mak­ing the semi­fi­nals in the process.

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