Watson has some regrets but is back to lift the Kings
OUTSIDE of the Lions’ recruitment of John Mitchell as their coach, the decision that Luke Watson has made to return to his home country to lead the Kings was the most positive thing to happen to South African rugby this year.
Watson has always attracted strong opinions and emotions, and on the internet chat forums this week there were predictably many who hit out at the loose-forward.
Some of those who have not forgiven him for comments made about the Springbok jersey said he was “coming home to daddy”.
But while his controversial father Cheeky Watson does happen to be the president of the Kings, my information is that it was not Watson senior who drove the move to get Luke to return from his current base at English club, Bath.
Instead the impetus came from Kings coach Alan Solomons, who recognises the strength of Watson’s leadership and who has never made any secret of his desire to see players schooled and educated in the region return home.
Watson is the most high profile of the “Eastern Cape old boys club” playing elsewhere, so it was logical to target him.
And it’s also not correct to say that Watson had to take a pay cut to come home: my sources tell me he is being lured home by the sort of money that puts him in the Victor Matfield bracket.
Which is good news for it tells us the Kings do have money, as is becoming obvious if you look at some of the names being linked to the future of rugby in Port Elizabeth, and the people being sounded out are not just players either.
Quite a few people in coaching positions have been approached, and if even just a few of them make the move, the Kings will have a far more technically efficient and astute management than the Springboks have at this moment.
This is all good, for South African rugby needs the Eastern Cape to emerge as a competitive entity.
They drew the first promo- t i on-rele g ation game against the Pumas away before being well beaten in the second, but after winning the Premier Division final, you have to ask why the Kings were playing the Pumas and not the Leopards?
What was most impressive was the huge crowd that turned up at the Nelson Mandela Stadium for the match, an indication that the people in that region do want top rugby and are prepared to support the representative team from that union.
The Kings should fight for their right to be in the top playing through the promotion relegation system, but there may well be grounds to follow the precedent set in 1987, when Natal were promoted to the then A Section of the Currie Cup by a board decision.
That move was done on the basis of the money that Natal were bringing into the South African rugby coffers even when in the B Section, and their potential for growth. The reason is simple – as long as they are languishing in the B Section, it’s going to be difficult for them to attract the quality of player they need to be a force. Once that impediment is removed, there should be no stopping the Kings.
And Watson is the ideal man to drive the Kings’ hopes on the field. For a long time I wasn’t a big Watson fan, not because of the views he held, but the way he expressed them. However I interviewed him recently for SA Rugby magazine, and during the interview he confirmed the impression he gave during his last season with Western Province – which is that he has matured.
He said that, given the time to be himself and think about it, he regrets a lot he said and did earlier in his career. That honesty would have made him a better leader, and there can be no denying the effect he has on teams he captains.
The long-term goal for SA rugby must be to see the Easter n Cape become a strong nursery for black talent. It is necessary for the Kings to become the Toulon of South Africa rugby. In Watson they have a man who can lead them to a bright future.