Wat­son has some re­grets but is back to lift the Kings

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

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