Kings in, Lions out
The Southern Kings are in, and the MTN Lions are out – and that’s official.
The groundbreaking decision was taken by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) general council almost eight months after it was first suggested, and after SARU repeatedly confirmed the Kings participation in the 2013 Vodacom Super Rugby series.
Finally, on Thursday in Cape Town, the decision was taken that the Lions would miss out on Super Rugby next year, replaced by the Kings with a promotion-relegation match between the Lions and the lowest placed South African franchise to determine the 2014 participant.
The decision may be a short-term one to a problem that SARU created for itself with promises to the Eastern Cape franchise, but it at least confirmed the decision it originally took and stuck to it. One of the major problems for the Lions going into the meeting was that the scenario was the only one on the table, and that the Lions failed to give SARU any alternatives to vote on. This was confirmed by more than one delegate to the meeting to supersport.com.
The final vote – a resounding 23-6 victory for the Kings participation, will see South Africa’s “other franchise” face the might of the Super Rugby competition despite the telling questionmarks about their participation.
The Lions, who have finished bottom of the Super Rugby log for the past two seasons, now face a mass exodus of players, doubts about their sponsors and financial viability, although no decision was taken to dismantle them as a franchise anytime soon.
SARU are expected to look for alternative competitions for the Lions to compete in but no decision has been announced in this regard as yet.
A jubilant Cheeky Watson told OFM that the Kings had been waiting for this moment for a long time.
“Its been a long dogfight for the Kings, we’d like to thank the people of the Eastern Cape, the metro and the regional government for their support. In many ways, the work has just started for us. It’s exciting, but we have a big job ahead,” Watson told OFM.
The Lions released a statement expressing their disappointment, and promised to consider their options before reacting properly to the judgement. For now, it seems, they seem resigned to their fate.
“We are extremely disappointed at this result. This is a very unfortunate decision which will result in a team taking part in a competition without needing to qualify on rugby merits. We will take time to consider this decision and then to plan our response that best protects our players, staff, stakeholders and supporters,” Lions president Kevin de Klerk said in the statement.
SARU made the announcement after the General meeting of member provinces, saying the top four teams in the South African Conference in 2012 (DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls, The Sharks and Toyota Cheetahs) will join the Southern Kings in the 2013 tournament.
“The teams were confirmed after the General Meeting accepted a proposal first tabled by the Executive Council in January. The proposal was that: “The franchise occupying the lowest log position of the five franchises at the end of 2012 would be relegated.” The MTN Lions, who finished bottom of the South African Conference, will have the chance to regain their status in 12 months’ time. The Executive Council had previously determined that the bottom team in 2013 would play in a two-legged promotion and relegation series against the relegated franchise. The promotion/relegation series will also be in place in 2014 and 2015 – at which point the broadcast contract expires,” the SARU statement read.
“All rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition,” said Mr Oregan Hoskins, president of SARU. “That decision was first taken in 2005 but their inclusion has twice been postponed.
“We made a commitment to the Kings to include them in 2013 and rugby has delivered on that commitment. The franchise represents more clubs than any other region – apart from the Stormers – and contains numerous leading rugby schools. It has been starved of top-class rugby competition for a decade and a half and now it has the chance to show what it can do.”
Mr Hoskins said that Sanzar’s decision to grant the 15th franchise to Melbourne in 2011 – rather than the Southern Kings – had created a dilemma for SARU. He said that the organisation and players had wanted a “rugby solution” to accommodate six franchises in five places and this had been delivered, as challenging as it was for the relegated team.
“The provinces asked for a rugby solution and we believe that this was the fairest and most transparent method to respond to what is undoubtedly a less than ideal situation,” he said. “We also canvassed Vodacom Super Rugby players before the start of the season, through the Players’ Association, and this was their preferred mechanism.
“We will continue to push the case for early expansion within Sanzar. Negotiations on a new broadcasting rights deal will begin shortly and the inclusion of six South African franchises will be firmly top of our agenda.”
Jurie Roux, the CEO of SARU, said that the decision to apply a promotion and relegation system from 2013 was standard practice in sport.
“We operate promotion and relegation in all our Absa Currie Cup competitions, with the bottom-placed team being relegated unless it wins a play off,” said Roux.
“We lobbied hard with our partners in Australia and New Zealand to expand to 16 teams with the inclusion of a sixth South African franchise from next season, but they had no incentive to change what has been a winning format.
“Our strategic goal is to have six strong franchises covering the whole of South Africa and this decision keeps all of them in play on an annual basis.”