South­ern Kings lost Su­per 15 bid but are here to stay

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

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.

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