Pretoria - The Bulls have capitalised on the growing uncertainty surrounding the EP Kings as they signed impressive prop Lizo Gqoboka for the next few years to bolster their Super Rugby squad, supersport.com reports.
Gqoboka gave notice at the Kings after repeated non-payment of salaries at the franchise, and the Bulls swooped in to offer him a new home for the foreseeable future.
And there may well be more news in the next 48 hours as the Bulls are still after the signatures of three other EP Kings players - loose forwards Tim Agaba and Thembelani Bholi and wing Luther Obi. Some big decisions will be made regarding their futures soon.
Gqoboka has been rated as one of the strongest props by the Springbok management team, who tried in vain to get him to play Super Rugby this year after he was ignored by the franchises for the 2015 season.
But with SARU’s transformation action plan likely to be implemented much more stringently in the future, the Bulls have been pro-active in searching for good black talent to bolster their Super Rugby ranks for the coming year.
Bulls High Performance Manager Xander Janse van Rensburg confirmed Gqoboka’s signature but wouldn’t be drawn into any other negotiations that are currently taking place.
However, sources close to the Kings have confirmed the trio of players are currently in serious negotiations with the Bulls, and may well put pen to paper on Friday.
Gqoboka stands at 1.83m and 115kg and is a graduate of Ntabankulu High School. He is known for his explosive power and pace, including holding a schoolboy record of running 11.6 in the 100m. After stints at lock and No 8 he settled at prop where he has played for the past three years and is seen as a future Springbok by those who have worked with him before.
A regular of the NMMU Madibaz in Varsity Cup, he has also played 58 times for the Kings in recent times and did train with the Sharks during the 2014 season but failed to make their final squad. To confirm his rating among the national selectors, Gqoboka was invited to the Springbok training camps in 2014 as well.
While his signing is a coup for the Bulls, he will have some tough competition going up against Springbok Trevor Nyakane and Dean Greyling for the loosehead prop role. If the Bulls confirm the signing of the other three players from the Kings, it will give coach Nollis Marais a lot more depth going into the Super Rugby season with both Bholi and Agaba having had exceptional Absa Currie Cup seasons.
Agaba was named as part of an extended Springbok Sevens squad for the upcoming World Series and has an outside chance of making the squad to go to the Rio Olympics next year.
The Bulls were after Luther Obi in the past when he was still a member of the Leopards. After a move to the Kings was done without the Leopards' knowledge, and ended up in arbitration between the two unions, it seems it wasn’t the best move for the former SA under-20 winger at all.
All three will have their work cut out with the Bulls boasting some depth in the loose forward and wing departments, but they can look forward to Super Rugby game time if they do decide to move.
The Kings have been late with player payments four times in the last month, with the SA Rugby Players Association giving an ultimatum until Monday to make the payments, or the union would be in breach of contract. It was under this breach that the Bulls were able to snap up Gqoboka and if they do sign the other three it will be under the same clause.
The EP Kings released a statement on Wednesday confirming that Gqoboka and Tim Whitehead had asked to be released but denied any other players would be leaving.
"We are aware that SARPA have advised players that EP Rugby is in breach of contract, due to the non-payment of salaries by the 10th of November, and have advised that players can therefore terminate their contracts.
“They have also advised those who do not have alternative employment offers that they are not obligated to return to training on Monday next week.
“We have noted with concern that a lot of speculation has taken place over players that are leaving, with a number of names bandied about.
“EP Rugby can confirm that Tim Whitehead and Lizo Gqoboka are the only two players, to date, that have given notice of their intent to leave the Kings.”
The Kings added that the lack of funds was due to a sponsorship agreement that hasn't been finalised.
“These cash flow problems can be attributed to significant delays in the release of funds from a sponsorship deal that was originally announced by EP Rugby President Cheeky Watson.
“As stated previously, Mr Watson is currently in Australia to meet with sponsors to try and expedite the release of these funds.
“The executive is extremely aware of the challenges that late payment creates, as we all have bills to pay and debit orders that come off our accounts at a certain time each month.
"We are also keeping SA Rugby informed of the situation as it unfolds and are engaging with them and our other stakeholders.”'