Lions to become globe-trotters?
The Golden Lions could well become a globe-trotting team over the next few months as the South African Rugby Union starts to explore avenues for them to have international competition while out of Vodacom Super Rugby.
A high-profile Saru delegation met with the Lions' senior management on Thursday at OR Tambo International airport to discuss ways ahead for the beleaguered Super Rugby franchise, after they lost their place in the 2013 competition to the EP Kings next year.
Apart from a possible entry into an international competition, with the blessing of the International Rugby Board, the Lions could well also play a number of games against Heineken Cup sides in Europe as well as several pre-season friendlies against South African Super Rugby sides.
This means that a showdown with the side that replaced them, the Kings, is on the cards as a pre-season game before the Kings make their debut next year.
Another possibility is that the Lions could well play several international sides to ensure they continue to have high-quality opposition before their promotion-relegation match against South Africa’s lowest-placed finisher next year.
Mr Oregan Hoskins, Mr Mark Alexander and Jurie Roux, respectively president, deputy president and CEO of Saru, met Mr Kevin de Klerk, president of the GLRU, Mr Altman Allers, deputy president and Ruben Moggee, acting CEO of the GLRU, to review the effects of the MTN Lions’ relegation from the tournament, following last week’s vote by Saru provinces.
Saru have stepped up their work proactively seeking an alternative for the Lions as they will now suffer without top-level competition, and while the five pre-season games are almost a given against the South African franchises, any international competition may be a much tougher ask.
Getting into an existing competition in Europe seems almost an impossibility, although the idea of a Lions “tour” to Europe to face Heineken Cup teams that did not make the playoff rounds, seems a more likely bet.
There is also uncertainty if the Lions will enter the IRB Nations Cup, as the Kings did in previous years, or will be bolder and ask for entry into the Pacific Nations Cup or Churchill Cup. Both would require the blessing of the IRB.
However, it is clear that with the decision being taken only a week ago, things are very much in their beginning stage. According to a statement released by Saru , it was simply an exploratory conversation.
“This was an exploratory conversation and it’s too early to predict what the outcomes will be,” said Roux. “We reviewed the MTN Lions’ Super Rugby business model and considered the financial impact.
“The exclusion of any of the existing five franchises was a last resort for Saru. We will look at options for support for consideration by the Exco (Executive Council of Saru) in the short term.”
Mr de Klerk said: "The conversation was a very serious discussion on the future of the MTN Lions and hopefully we can work together to some positive outcomes."
Roux said that Saru had noted the decision of the arbiter in the case for compensation brought by the Leopards and Mpumalanga Rugby Unions against the GLRU, their partner in the MTN Lions franchise.
He said the matter had not been discussed with the Lions as it would have been inappropriate to do so in the absence of the junior partners in the franchise.