Cape Town – Remgro have conceded that their corporate image
could be damaged if their quest to turn around ailing, crisis-torn Western
Province Rugby fails.
It also seems abundantly clear that their already
substantial financial “rescue remedy” at Newlands, including payment of player
and staff salaries in the period leading up to the controversial liquidation of
the WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd professional arm late last year, will require
significant increase if their resuscitation hopes are to be realised.
Remgro’s sometimes publicity-shy CEO Jannie Durand revealed
to Sunday Times business journalist Chris Barron at the weekend (www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/businesstimes/article2198390.ece)
that the investment holding company – chaired by multibillionaire Johann Rupert
– intends becoming “much more closely” involved in the management of WP Rugby.
It currently has a 24.9 percent stake in it, but this will
rocket to a more crucial 74 percent when, as expected fairly imminently, the
South African Rugby Union constitution is altered to facilitate majority
Remgro, according to Durand, has analysed “mistakes made …
we know where the problems lie (in WP Rugby)”, and that there is a sound
business rationale above any emotional reason for their investment at Newlands.
He said it was critical to “appoint the best management
team” at WP Rugby, saying it was their “biggest job”.
“I wouldn’t call it a pleasurable diversion if you look at
the amount of airtime this thing has got … from a reputational side it’s
important we get this right.”
What boardroom steps Remgro take in their turnaround drive
remain to be seen – Durand has admitted they “were involved” with the
appointment of UCT business science graduate Paul Zacks as CEO in place of
long-serving Rob Wagner last year – but he also hinted that the coaching
situation (Robbie Fleck is about to start his second year as chief coach of
headline team the Stormers in Super Rugby) would be addressed.
“It’s about getting closely involved … appointing the right
coaches and so forth. We’re going to look at everything. I don’t mind a foreign
coach at all.
“I think you can say we’ve had the courage to invest in WP
Rugby and come to their rescue; hopefully we can do that.
“Obviously we need to fill the stadium, we need to sell more
tickets … what sells more tickets is a winning team. WP Rugby made some good
money in the past so there’s no reason it can’t happen again.”
Reading between the lines, Durand’s motivations suggests a potentially
shrewd, conscious business decision to buy the proverbial “shares while they
Remgro also owns 50 percent of English Premiership club
Saracens, an association stretching back some eight years when the north London
outfit were well less than a consistent powerhouse.
Saracens have since won the Premiership three times, as well
as being current holders of the European Champions Cup.
WP are in the relative doldrums domestically, with the
Stormers yet to win Super Rugby or even reach the final since 2010, and in a
tough fixture draw this year as they must tackle the five New Zealand teams in
In addition, their cash problems have almost certainly
impacted on the eroding depth of their personnel base -- key backline player Cheslin
Kolbe, 23, one of relatively few thrill-factor elements to their mix, is just
the latest to confirm his plans to play in France (for Toulouse) after a final
crack at Super Rugby this year.
Recent “signings”, if anything, only remind of the present
poverty in buying power; most have been of players not even proven yet in the
heavily-diluted modern Currie Cup, let alone proven customers in the
hurly-burly of Super Rugby.
If Remgro are to genuinely help engineer a return to glory
days at ageing Newlands – or perhaps Cape Town Stadium, a burning ongoing
flashpoint in itself – their investment may have to be more fulsome than they
even anticipate at this juncture.
Restoring bums to seats and selling more season tickets and
vacant suites will require an immeasurably stronger squad down the line – the
Stormers arguably last had the required sort of armoury for the gruelling
annual slog four or five years back – if all-important winning is to become
cultural at Newlands once more.
There are other minefields to be negotiated before the good
times can roll anew: WP Rugby remains immersed in a complex, acrimonious
dispute with Aerios, the partner at the centre of a major advertising rights
dispute with them involving a claim of more than R70-million.
Aerios continue to oppose the liquidation of the
professional arm, seeing it as a cynical bid by WP to absolve themselves of
liabilities to them.
Long-suffering Stormers/WP supporters may begin to feel,
nevertheless, following Durand’s template indications, that the process of
reintroducing much-needed private business savvy to their headquarters has got
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