Lions in tatters, fire Spencer
The Golden Lions Rugby Union lurched forward into another crisis on Thursday as they announced they had dismissed assistant coach Carlos Spencer and conditioning coach Wayne Taylor with immediate effect.
The saga, which is another spin-off from their suspension of head coach John Mitchell two months ago, now leaves the defending Absa Currie Cup champions without a coach, assistant coach, conditioning coach or captain just a week before the start of the competition.
The move comes after Beeld newspaper reported on Thursday morning that regular captain Josh Strauss had declined the captaincy as well for the season ostensibly to work on his game.
But while the coaching saga continues to claim the headlines, the Lions are facing massive problems on other fronts as well, yet continue to keep quiet and continue to profess that there is nothing wrong with the way the Rugby Union is being run.
The firing of the two Kiwis, who were both brought in by Mitchell when he took over at Coca-Cola Park, comes on the same day that the South African Rugby Union Executive meets in Cape Town to find a way to the Super Rugby participation of the EP Kings, with the most likely scenario still being the relegation of the Lions, who finished last in this year’s tournament, from the competition.
And is if this wasn’t enough, the Lions were also involved in arbitration talks about the money they owe to both the Pumas and Leopards Rugby Unions, their Super Rugby franchise partners, which started on Wednesday as a last resort before heading to court.
Mitchell’s future is still uncertain, as his disciplinary has been concluded and a result is only expected in September, but SuperSport.com has learnt that Spencer and Taylor were given an ultimatum by Lions bosses last week to decide if they wanted to stay on and buy in to a future without Mitchell or leave.
The announcement of their dismissal came in a terse one-paragraph press release by the Lions, which confirmed that a resolution definitely wasn’t found over the weekend.
“The Golden Lions Rugby Union announced this morning that MTN Lions coaches Carlos Spencer (Backline Coach) and Wayne Taylor (Conditioning Coach) had their contracts terminated and were given notice of dismissal on Monday, 31 July 2012,” the statement said.
Spencer and Taylor are close to Mitchell and were understandably upset at the handling of the coach’s suspension by the Lions, which was initially reported as being led by a group of players under captain Strauss, and then later denied by president Kevin de Klerk as being a process led by the Union as they were unhappy with Mitchell’s comments.
Throughout the process Mitchell has kept mum, but is known to be a disciplinarian, a factor that had upset a number of players apparently with the way he handled them.
But the current dismissals means that only caretaker coach Johan Ackermann remains at the helm of a side that will finalise its Currie Cup preparations with a friendly against the Bulls at Wits on Friday night.
On top of this, the Lions have been fighting to stave off other provinces poaching their players, with Grant Hattingh and Paul Willemse’s moves to the Bulls already confirmed and the uncertainty about Super Rugby participation hampering them in their hopes to keep the squad intact.
Acting CEO Ruben Moggee has said the majority of the squad was signed up for 2013, but rumours surrounding the future of several players still continue to circulate. One of these is Bok flyhalf Elton Jantjies, whose contract apparently allows him to play Super Rugby elsewhere if the Lions are relegated from the tournament.
Moggee was unavailable for comment, as he was in arbitration talks with the Leopards and Pumas on Thursday, as the Lions look to find a way out of a court challenge for the almost R6-million they apparently owe the two unions for Super Rugby fees they were supposed to have paid over at the end of 2011.
Despite several attempts to find an impasse, and a Saru resolution saying that if the moneys were not paid, then the Lions would not participate in the Super Rugby tournament in 2013, the three parties were still hopeful of a positive outcome.
The matter surfaced when the Lions denied they were financially bankrupt a few months ago in newspaper reports and after former partners Ivor Ichikowitz and Robert Gumede withdrew after a massive fallout and then claimed the Lions were millions in the red, something the Lions have vehemently denied.