Kings need mindset shift
Cheeky Watson (Gallo Images)
SARU's decision to award the franchise to Eastern and Southern Cape people was, and still is, a brilliant one for the future of the game in this country. SARU have honored its promise, and as one of the people who called them to task in my open letter to the Editor (“SARU must keep promise to Kings”, 29 November 2011, PE Herald), I am very happy with their decision. However, as I’ve indicated in the same letter, Southern Kings partners (EP, Border, and SWD) must also do a thorough inspection of their domestic affairs because that, unfortunately, have an ability of undermining every good thing that super rugby brings to this region.
SARU first made the promise in 2009 when they gave Southern Kings the British Lions match. Then they were talking about giving them a Franchise in 2011. But late 2010 SARU’s President, Regan Hoskins, changed the timeline to 2013. There have definitely been delays in officially announcing the franchise, but the promise and commitment has been there since 2009. Cheeky and his technical team have been building a team ever since 2009 and I think this is where they really messed up. The model they adopted of buying ready-made players in order to achieve Currie Cup status completely backfired because they bought a lot of old players who ended up failing to win promotion. Most of those players are now not good enough to play super rugby. Had they come up with an all inclusive plan that included players coming from Varsity Shield (UFH), Varsity Cup (NMMU), and the other two provinces (Border and SWD) they would have a very strong team now that would have gained more experience of playing together for more than three seasons. Also Cheeky and Kings missed a wonderful opportunity to make their franchise unique by just being different from the rest. Instead they are the same as other SA franchises which make SARU’s decision to award them the franchise more unfair to the Lions. Kings have the same number of black players (10 or less) with other franchises, have a predominantly white technical team as others, a predominantly white administration, and now want more foreign players. How are they different from the Lions and others?
What has really worried me is that ever since SARU made the decision, the only thing we've heard from President Watson is complaint after complaint. He first complained for the fact that they are given one year of Super Rugby, less international (foreign) players, and the time it took for SARU to make the decision. Not even once have we heard him talk about his strategic imperatives and how he's going to go about running the franchise. We need to see his Grand Plan and how a Super Rugby, as a central cog of that plan, is going to help him achieve his goals. This is the time they should be garnering the community around to support the team, instead they are involved in a bitter battle with SARU to get more foreign players. There is also a lot of unhappiness from the greater ‘Black’ Community who feel used and undermined. Cheeky and his cronies have to quickly address this because a failure to do so will lead to nothing less than a disaster!
However, there’s no doubt in my mind they will be competitive. But they have to change their mindset now rather than later, otherwise they will fall on the same trap as Lions. The way I see it is that Kings have one year of Super rugby and a Promotion/Relegation match that, if won, will give them more credibility and respect from the greater rugby community. So Kings, either way you look at it, have 14 Super Rugby games to prepare for Promotion/Relegation matches with Lions, and I think they can do it!