Sunday’s confirmation that the Super Rugby tournament will be reduced from 18 to 15 teams should be welcomed by rugby enthusiasts.
It has become general consensus that the strength of the competition was downgraded with too many also-ran participants.
Australia will lose one team and South Africa two, with Argentina’s Jaguares and Japan’s Sunwolves surviving the cut.
Australia losing only one team and the Sunwolves being spared is a debate on its own, but in the long run, this decision could well be good for South African rugby.
Having six franchises clearly diluted the strength of the South African game and heading back to a strength versus strength system will not only help improve the quality of action on a weekly basis, but should bring about an increase in attendances, viewership and may help curb the outflow of talented players abroad.
The decision, however, creates an immediate dilemma for SA Rugby’s top brass in deciding which teams to eliminate.
Based on form, there’s no doubt that the Southern Kings and Cheetahs should be the unlucky parties, but the decision may not be as clear-cut as that.
The question needs to be asked whether SA Rugby will allow the Kings to go, especially after lobbying for so long for their inclusion in an expanded competition.
As mentioned on previous occasions, the Kings were the reason Super Rugby was expanded in the first place, as SA Rugby used its TV rights bargaining power to appease government.
The Eastern Cape region boasts a strong heritage of black rugby representation and the Kings’ participation in the tournament was seen as a necessity.
Government will not be happy seeing its “pet project” - as Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing calls it - being dismantled.
But for me it’s pretty simple, the Kings simply don’t deserve their stay in the competition. They have been a disaster from the word go, with financial mismanagement ruining the union to such an extent that it forced SA Rugby to help fund the franchise.
The Cheetahs have fared much better than the Kings, but at present can lay no better claim than any of the other four franchises.
Poor performances aside, the Cheetahs’ crowd attendances - or rather the lack thereof - is evident for all to see, while their inability to keep hold of marquee players remains well documented.
Unfortunately, SA Rugby’s administrators don’t have too many options available in determining the way forward.
Like it or not, but the best way forward may be a rebirth of the old Cats franchise - when the Lions and Cheetahs joined forces between 1998 and 2005.
There have been talks of the Lions and Bulls merging, which then creates the possibility of a Cheetahs-Kings merger.
However, for me, that's a far-fetched idea.
The Bulls (despite their recent woes!) and Lions are two of the current giants of the South African game - financially and from a player depth perspective - and merging these two would create a lopsided balance of power, while the Cheetahs and Kings merging would hardly turn the new franchise into title challengers.
There’s also the option of simply divvying up the best of the Cheetahs and Kings players among the remaining four franchises, but I fear this system will not be conducive in the long run.
Both these provinces should remain feeder unions to a Super Rugby franchise and for that to happen they need to be affiliated to one specific franchise.
The Cheetahs merging with the Lions and the Kings re-joining the Sharks appears to be the way forward.
Should the above-mentioned scenario play itself out, it may be wise to have one franchise as the major decision-maker.
A big drawback for the-then Cats was the fact that the Lions and Cheetahs had equal say at boardroom level.
It led to a scenario where half of the games were played in Johannesburg and the other half in Bloemfontein, which possibly created some identity issues for the team.
A model would need to be created where the Lions, for example, are in charge of running the franchise at management level, with the Cheetahs used solely as a player resource and then commercially be reimbursed for players provided to the franchise.
The same can be said for if the Kings were to join up with the Sharks.
It won’t be the most popular of decisions but, given the cards dealt, may be the only way for South Africa to field four Super Rugby franchises, without completely disregarding two regions...
Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...
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