Rob Houwing

SA's sides must stay 'solo'

2011-11-29 12:26
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing

Arranged marriages in South African rugby don’t work ... there has to be a better way of fitting the Southern Kings into the Super Rugby puzzle than by merging them with the Cheetahs.

Artificial solutions, I think it is apt to say, all too often only lead to a plethora of new problems.

Finding the right way to satisfy the generally noble quest to put Eastern Cape rugby truly back on the map - by installing it into the southern hemisphere money-spinner, ideally planned from 2013 - remains a matter of great difficulty and complexity, with no easy answers right now.

That is especially since the Kings had rather a comeuppance, on their supposedly earnest road to broader recognition, during the last Currie Cup first division campaign when they were significantly eclipsed by the Boland Cavaliers who gave them respective nasty hidings (including in the final).

The Kings team also didn’t blaze any particularly glorious trail in terms of transformation, which is one of the key objectives from both the region’s rugby bosses and government - the latter, of course, never hovering very far from any debate on when and how to accommodate them at a higher level.

With solutions in short supply at present, speculation has drifted toward what is arguably a crudely manufactured alliance with the Cheetahs.

Protesting, the veteran Cheetahs boss Harold Verster has already stated the glaringly obvious, logistically, in making the hardly unreasonable point that “there are few flights between Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth and you can’t drive 650km every time”. 

So the geographical synergy is awkward, to say the least, and trying to foster a meaningful cultural bond, if you like, between the two very different rugby regions just seems a goal fraught with fruitlessness.

There have been earlier lessons in the foolhardiness of this sort of thing: the combination of the Lions and Cheetahs as the “Golden Cats” at one stage in the old Super 12 was anything but a marriage made in heaven, and the Sharks’ former status as the “Coastal Sharks” – featuring official franchise ties with Border and EP - was also riddled with pitfalls.

I remember respected Sharks and Springbok captain Gary Teichmann, while not wishing to pooh-pooh the claims of rugby advancement in those “smaller partner” areas of the time, lamenting a 1999 Sharks fixture in East London, where his semi-finalists of the previous year were unexpectedly walloped 34-18 by a Hurricanes outfit who were then the weakest New Zealand team.

He said it never really felt a home match, with all the supposed benefits that status usually brings.

This season’s first Super Rugby season in its expanded format saw the Cheetahs, so often poor cousins in the past, find some good mojo at times – including much greater competitiveness abroad and a memorable home win over the Crusaders.

Fiddling with their momentum by lumping them with the Kings, and zigzagging between the Free State Stadium and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for “home” assignments, just doesn’t seem a beneficial move for either party, frankly.

It is also not in the broad national interest to dilute the Cheetahs brand: the region remains a phenomenal treasure trove of talent, particularly because of that amazing nursery of Grey College, with flyhalf phenomenon Johan Goosen just one gem to burst to the domestic forefront last season.

The emergence and development of players like him must not be impaired by the creation of a distractive combination with a faraway other region.

A problem with the Kings possibly entering Super Rugby as a standalone entity in two years’ time is that their presence would only complicate an already ludicrously congested southern hemisphere season, when a British and Lions tour of Australia has to be squeezed in and bye weekends for the Aussie franchises, especially, are thus going to be extremely hard to factor in.

My own gut feel is that the Southern Kings issue will simply stay on a smouldering backburner for another few years, regardless of whatever Super Rugby 2013 “promises” or “assurances” may have already been made.

Meanwhile, other methods must be thrashed out to skin the cat they call the Southern Kings ...

*Follow chief writer Rob Houwing on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

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