E. Cape angry at SARU snub
Cape Town - Players and fans in the black rugby stronghold of South Africa's Eastern Cape say officials have broken promises to get their local side into Super Rugby.
As the Pretoria-based Bulls and Cape Town's Stormers prepare for Saturday's Super 14 final, supporters of the fledgling Southern Kings franchise complain that they feel frustrated and disappointed.
"All we have is promises, promises, and it's time for a stand," said Thando Manana, a former Springbok loose forward who quit rugby in 2005 to start a driving school in the New Brighton township outside Port Elizabeth, where the Kings are based.
"There are high expectations and we are waiting for Super rugby as promised by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) president and the government."
Head coach Alan Solomons said the uncertain future for the franchise made it difficult to recruit players.
"There are players who will come tomorrow but not without there being Super rugby," he said. "There has been a clear commitment by SARU to the franchise but we need to move ahead with this process. The delays are killing us."
The Kings, launched nearly a year ago, enjoy strong political backing from the ANC government but lost out last November to the Melbourne Rebels in a bid for the 15th slot in an expanded version of the southern hemisphere competition from 2011.
The Rebels will be the fifth Australian team in the competition. New Zealand and South Africa already have five teams apiece.
The Eastern Cape is the birthplace of former president Nelson Mandela and has more clubs - 500 - than the rest of the country combined.
The majority of its 20 000 registered players, most of them black, live in the many townships bordering the harbour cities of East London and Port Elizabeth.
"Millions have been pumped into transformation but it's like the housing problem in this country," said Manana. "A few houses have been built, but the people are still crying, and wondering where their water, electricity and roof are."
Manana's views echo those of local players and supporters who say amalgamating the struggling Lions and Cheetahs teams - based in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein respectively - would allow the Kings to play.
SARU president Oregan Hoskins said such a demand was based on "emotion" and was unworkable.
"It would take a miracle for (the Kings) to match the Lions if they played them tomorrow," said Hoskins.
"The Lions have been pathetic but if the Kings look in the mirror they would understand there's a massive gulf between the Super 14 and domestic Currie Cup rugby. For them to say they could beat the Lions is being absolutely disingenuous."
The Lions lost all 13 pool matches this year - the worst losing streak in the competition's history - but Hoskins said the Kings would have to wait until the 2013 season, when the tournament is set to expand to 18 teams, to be accommodated.
"I don't believe it's in anybody's best interests that the Kings play in the Super 15 in 2011," said Hoskins, who added that scrapping the Lions franchise would cause "all sorts of division and turmoil".
Coach Solomons said the delay was "prejudicial to the franchise".
"It's difficult to contract players or do anything until we know what is going on," said former Ulster coach Solomons, who prepared the Kings for their only match to date - a 20-8 defeat by the British & Irish Lions in Port Elizabeth in June last year when they fielded an invitational side.
"When we played the British Lions we attracted 35 000 people. Had they given us a franchise right after the game, we would have been good to go from 2011.
"We've got a brand-new FIFA World Cup stadium and great schools that produce great players, but those players have no aspirational pathway," Solomons said.
"It's just not fair, it's crazy and it just doesn't make sense if we do want to make rugby a game that is fully representative of our country.
"The Eastern Cape is the cradle of black rugby in South Africa and, without Super rugby, these players can't give back to their communities."