Southern Kings lost Super 15 bid but are here to stay
IT DIDN’T receive much space in the newspapers or air time on the radio, so one can only assume that the decision to award the 15th Super rugby franchise to Melbourne was largely anticipated.
That it would go to Australia and not to the Southern Kings should have been a no-brainer once the anticipated costs were looked at.
Money makes the world go round, and once it was established that having a South African team in the Australian conference would amount to an extra NZ$720,000 per annum, and the potential loss of television revenue over five years would be R37 million, then the SA bid was always going to lose.
But it is sad, for one of the illuminating things to come out of the press release issued by SANZAR after the announcement was that the Kings bid had been superior to Melbourne in almost every other aspect, including financing, business model, organisational structure and governance.
Cheetahs president Harold Verster reacted to the Kings bid losing out by saying his union must make sure they have a successful Super 14 season in 2010, and he is right on the money.
There are sound reasons to push for the inclusion of the Kings in the competition, and the continued failures of the two inland franchises that used to make up the Cats does put them both in a tenuous position.
I expressed the view during the Lions series that the Kings must show us their team before making claims about their ability to compete in the Super 14.
But on reflection, my objection is not a valid one if you consider that players are hardly likely to sign up for the Kings if the franchise is not guaranteed participation in the Super 15 and with the future of rugby in the region so uncertain.
If there is a business model in place and it is met with the approval of the independent panel appointed to adjudicate on the awarding of the 15th franchise, then that is good enough for me.
Big rugby these days is a business, and the Sharks are a great example of what can be achieved in the sport through good business sense.
To refresh memories, the Sharks, as Natal, were languishing in the B Section of the Currie Cup for most of the 1980s.
They never won promotion back to the A Section on the playing field, but were pushed back there by the old SA Rugby Board, who saw the potential of the union.
It was only once they were back in the higher echelon that Natal were able to buy the big name players such as Wahl Bartmann, Guy Kebble and Rudi Visagie that helped them become a Currie Cup-winning province.
You only have to look at the birth places or education CVs of the players on the teamsheets of some of the bigger provinces to realise how much talent does come out of the Eastern Cape. The current Sharks team is dominated mostly by Free Staters, but there are also plenty of Easter n Cape old boys such as Kankowski, Daniel, Sykes, Ndungane and several others.
Transformation is rightly a big issue in this country, and there is no argument against the potential the region has to both produce black players and create black support for the sport in the one region where historically the oval ball game has been strong among all population groups.
That the game is thriving there is something I keep getting reminded of by old boys of schools like Dale and Queen’s College. I haven’t had the opportunity to get down there myself, but derby days are apparently an eye opener in terms of showing off the wealth of black talent coming through.
This potential gold mine for South African rugby cannot be ignored indefinitely, and whereas the Cheetahs provide the most fertile local nursery of talent in this country, the continued failures of the Lions undermine the arguments of those who champion the necessity to have three separate inland franchises.
To me, however, it doesn’t make sense to go back to the old unworkable Cats formula.
The Lions and the Cheetahs are just too far apart for it to be workable. The Lions have a massive stadium and great potential from a financial viewpoint, but if you go to Ellis Park to watch them play the Stormers or the Sharks, what strikes you is that the visiting support usually outnumbers that of the local team.
It would make far more sense from a logistical point of view for the Lions to be consumed into the Bulls franchise during the Super 14 season in the same way as North Harbour is married with Auckland to form the Blues. What is the point of arguing for the Lions’ financial potential when their stadium is always empty?
But it is time for SA Rugby to get cracking, to make the decisions, and to do what is necessary to ensure that the Kings will be ready for action in the Super 15 in 2012.
And the first step must surely be to press ahead with the plans to include the Kings as part of a new streamlined six team Currie Cup premier division in 2010.