Pro­mo­tion play-offs are a make-or-break for EP rugby

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

A SU­PER Rugby semi-fi­nal will be played in Pre­to­ria the next day, but in terms of im­pact on South African rugby, the most im­por­tant match next week­end will be one that has been set for Port El­iz­a­beth on Fri­day, July 26.

There are still move­ments be­hind the scenes that could prompt what is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly un­likely change of plan, but the South­ern Kings’ home match in a two-game pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion clash with the Lions at the Nel­son Man­dela Bay Sta­dium is al­ready be­ing ad­ver­tised in the city.

Kings’ act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Charl Crous has urged fans to turn out in num­bers and wear black to iden­tify with the Kings in a game that will be cru­cial to the sur­vival of the sport in the Eastern Cape.

Sel­dom in South African rugby his­tory has there been as much on the line as there will be next Fri­day, given that the win­ners of the se­ries will take their place in Su­per Rugby next year and the losers will drop out into the un­cer­tain no­man’s land that the Lions in­hab­ited dur­ing their sea­son of ex­clu­sion.

The sec­ond match in the se­ries will be played in Jo­han­nes­burg the fol­low­ing week­end.

Re­gard­less of what hap­pens, the big loser will be South African rugby.

While the Kings have en­joyed an en­cour­ag­ing de­but sea­son and the large mul­tira­cial crowds drawn to the sta­dium have show­cased the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a Su­per Rugby fran­chise in that re­gion, it also doesn’t suit the coun­try to have the na­tion’s big­gest city and in­dus­trial heart­land not rep­re­sented.

The Lions have fallen on harsh eco­nomic times re­cently, but his­tor­i­cally that union has con­trib­uted more than its fair share of play­ers to some of South Africa’s finest rugby tri­umphs, most notably the 1995 World Cup when Kitch Christie and Fran­cois Pien­aar were at the helm of a squad dom­i­nated by play­ers from the then Transvaal.

Recog­ni­tion of the dam­age that will be done to the loser prompted be­hind the scenes talks be­tween the two fran­chises over a pos­si­ble merger, and as re­cently as the week­end when the Spring­boks played South­ern Kings cen­tre and stand-in cap­tain, An­dries Strauss, will miss both pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion games against the Lions af­ter break­ing his hand dur­ing prac­tice yes­ter­day. Scot­land in Nel­spruit in the In­com­ing Tours Se­ries the pos­si­bil­ity of a merger go­ing through was put by an in­formed source at “90%”.

But what seemed likely has be­come in­creas­ingly un­likely as the de­tails of the merger have been thrashed out, and the al­most in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cles plus the ex­pec­ta­tions of the re­spec­tive par­ties have led to next week’s game now be­com­ing al­most a fait ac­com­pli.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that the pro­mo­tion- rel­e­ga­tion game (7.10pm kick-off) is be­ing ad­ver­tised as part of a dou­ble header also fea­tur­ing the EP Kings, who will be play­ing the Boland Cava­liers in a Cur­rie Cup first di­vi­sion match in the cur­tain-raiser. With the Kings not rep­re­sented in the do­mes­tic pre­mier di­vi­sion, de­feat in the pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion game will con­demn their ea­ger sup­port­ers to an im­me­di­ate fu­ture where such matches as the one against the Cava­liers be­come top fare.

That is of course on un­til 2016, when it is ex­pected that Su­per Rugby will un­dergo fur­ther ex­pan­sion and the le­git­i­mate de­mand by South Africa for an ad­di­tional team in the com­pe­ti­tion will be an­swered.

But con­sid­er­ing the strides the Kings made in their first sea­son it would be a po­ten­tially crip­pling blow to them if that mo­men­tum is bro­ken, al­though re­gard­less of what hap­pens next Fri­day it is un­likely that the Kings will have the ser­vices of their cur­rent di­rec­tor of rugby, Alan Solomons. Al­though it has been of­fi­cially de­nied by Solomons, it is un­der­stood he will be head­ing to Ed­in­burgh later in the year.

GONE: Alan Solomons looks set to leave, no mat­ter what hap­pens in the play-offs. GALLO IM­AGES

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.