SA's sides must stay 'solo'

2011-11-29 12:26

Rob Houwing

Arranged marriages in South African rugby don’t work ... there has to be a better way of fitting the Southern Kings into the Super Rugby puzzle than by merging them with the Cheetahs.

Artificial solutions, I think it is apt to say, all too often only lead to a plethora of new problems.

Finding the right way to satisfy the generally noble quest to put Eastern Cape rugby truly back on the map - by installing it into the southern hemisphere money-spinner, ideally planned from 2013 - remains a matter of great difficulty and complexity, with no easy answers right now.

That is especially since the Kings had rather a comeuppance, on their supposedly earnest road to broader recognition, during the last Currie Cup first division campaign when they were significantly eclipsed by the Boland Cavaliers who gave them respective nasty hidings (including in the final).

The Kings team also didn’t blaze any particularly glorious trail in terms of transformation, which is one of the key objectives from both the region’s rugby bosses and government - the latter, of course, never hovering very far from any debate on when and how to accommodate them at a higher level.

With solutions in short supply at present, speculation has drifted toward what is arguably a crudely manufactured alliance with the Cheetahs.

Protesting, the veteran Cheetahs boss Harold Verster has already stated the glaringly obvious, logistically, in making the hardly unreasonable point that “there are few flights between Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth and you can’t drive 650km every time”. 

So the geographical synergy is awkward, to say the least, and trying to foster a meaningful cultural bond, if you like, between the two very different rugby regions just seems a goal fraught with fruitlessness.

There have been earlier lessons in the foolhardiness of this sort of thing: the combination of the Lions and Cheetahs as the “Golden Cats” at one stage in the old Super 12 was anything but a marriage made in heaven, and the Sharks’ former status as the “Coastal Sharks” – featuring official franchise ties with Border and EP - was also riddled with pitfalls.

I remember respected Sharks and Springbok captain Gary Teichmann, while not wishing to pooh-pooh the claims of rugby advancement in those “smaller partner” areas of the time, lamenting a 1999 Sharks fixture in East London, where his semi-finalists of the previous year were unexpectedly walloped 34-18 by a Hurricanes outfit who were then the weakest New Zealand team.

He said it never really felt a home match, with all the supposed benefits that status usually brings.

This season’s first Super Rugby season in its expanded format saw the Cheetahs, so often poor cousins in the past, find some good mojo at times – including much greater competitiveness abroad and a memorable home win over the Crusaders.

Fiddling with their momentum by lumping them with the Kings, and zigzagging between the Free State Stadium and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for “home” assignments, just doesn’t seem a beneficial move for either party, frankly.

It is also not in the broad national interest to dilute the Cheetahs brand: the region remains a phenomenal treasure trove of talent, particularly because of that amazing nursery of Grey College, with flyhalf phenomenon Johan Goosen just one gem to burst to the domestic forefront last season.

The emergence and development of players like him must not be impaired by the creation of a distractive combination with a faraway other region.

A problem with the Kings possibly entering Super Rugby as a standalone entity in two years’ time is that their presence would only complicate an already ludicrously congested southern hemisphere season, when a British and Lions tour of Australia has to be squeezed in and bye weekends for the Aussie franchises, especially, are thus going to be extremely hard to factor in.

My own gut feel is that the Southern Kings issue will simply stay on a smouldering backburner for another few years, regardless of whatever Super Rugby 2013 “promises” or “assurances” may have already been made.

Meanwhile, other methods must be thrashed out to skin the cat they call the Southern Kings ...

*Follow chief writer Rob Houwing on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Rob is Sport24's chief writer

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


  • Stephen - 2011-11-29 14:24

    Only logical option if you HAD to merge would be to merge the Lions and the Bulls, and this is only from a logistical point of view. Another option would be to have 6 franchises with a promotion relegation game to decide whether or not the Kings could replace whichever of the current teams finishes last in next year's competition. On the evidence I doubt that this would happen as EP (the Southern Kings in all but name) were severley thrashed by Boland. Let's see what happens.

  • Kosie - 2011-11-29 15:41

    none of the kings players will make the team anyway. lol.

      Thomas - 2011-11-29 21:20

      Dead right, they bring nothing to the table!!!!!!!!!

      tonybighit - 2011-12-01 07:49

      Just in the same way that the cheetahs will never make the Super Rugby play offs.

  • bruce.taylor3 - 2011-11-30 06:29

    why not simply have a last place playoff f the kings vs who came last on the log in south africa in the super rugby last year, if the kings beat them then tey play the next seson , that way we keep our strongest sides in the compitition at all times and its a fairer way to test the true strength of the sides plating for SA

  • Mark - 2011-11-30 09:13

    Rob Why don't they have three conferences (or more if you add Argentinean teams to possibly others from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and possibly even Japan) with as many teams as the union wants. That conference plays each other on a 'home-and-away' basis (much like the Currie Cup) with the top two or three teams going through to a finals series. If you had 4 conferences each sending two teams to the 'next' phase, you could have a round robin stage of strength versus strength with the top four teams playing the semis and finals. That way we get the Currie Cup, The ABs get the ITM cup and the Aussies get their home series, all under the umbrella of super rugby. It will also give players from teams who don't make the second stage and/or finals rest from a very long season.

      Zion - 2011-12-05 17:28

      I agree Mark but exorbitant expenses may scuttle the viability of such a measure. Those expenses would then be borne by the supporters at the gate.

  • jonker.fourie - 2011-11-30 15:05

    Face it, Rob doesn't like the idea of the Kings just like so many others. The only reason for this is the fact that somebody else's beloved team will be no more to make way for the Kings. Super Rugby are spread over the whole country with all the areas except for the Eastern Cape getting a bite of the apple. All the smaller provinces except for the King's feeder provinces have some kind of involvement in Super Rugby. Down here we have nothing and nobody wants to give us an opportunity. They keep complaining that the teams aren't strong enough, but its all about money and without participation in Super Rugby there is no money. How many players in the Super Rugby teams were actually groomed in those provinces and how many were bought? In the era of professional rugby money talks and without Super Rugby there is no money. So admit it. Its not about where EP, SWD and Border is now, its about somebody else loosing out.

      goyougoodthing - 2011-11-30 17:59

      maybe start with managing to win the 1st division, then make the Premier Division, then get into top 6, then you have a claim. Right now you are below par and expecting a handout at the expense of better teams. You already benefit from test matches which you don't pay the full rights to like the other Unions. SARU won't even discuss matters such as the special rights fees you pay, the actual revenue from 'full stadia' etc. A full house with low revenue shows that tickets have been given away and not sold, thus making a mockery of 'support' in the EP. People will go to the opening of a paper bag if it's free. If you want to be taken seriously, play on the same field as everyone else, don't play the politics and not the truth.

      goyougoodthing - 2011-11-30 18:21

      How people can thumbs down the truth speaks volumes about South Africa

      christo.present - 2011-11-30 23:06

      @goyougoodthing. It shows that you don't understand. Look at all the super teams. How many of that players are actually from that region. If Kings will get super status then players will go play for them . They then have the right to buy players. They will be a strong team. In the early years of Currie Cup EP was ons of the 6 top teams. Look at Natal . After professional rugby they could only win the CC. Same with Tvl.

  • Zion - 2011-12-05 17:25

    This is a great article and just up my ally. The logistic problems are, in fact, huge. Provincial and regional rugby teams have to practice continuously to hone up their skills and game requirements. In the case of the Cheetahs and the Kings this ideal is close to impossible unless the duo go camp at De Aar.Another factor is the human factor especially for Cheetahs. There is a huge reservoir of talent in the Free State and that will be huge in comparison to the Eastern Cape. How will the ratio's run to not favour say Cheetahs due to their at-home and local talent not going to the dogs as a result of the presence of the Kings in the equation. We will end up with tokenism rather than talent in the teams. And finally: Every regional or provincial team has its own unique inherent culture which would be impossible to eradicate to the advantage of THE TEAM. And therein lies the seeds of discontent.

  • Matthew - 2011-12-09 11:30

    If I were in charge of SA Rugby I would do something like this: You enter the 'EP Elephants' into the Currie Cup and have them play against the bigger unions along with Griquas. Then, come Super Rugby time in 2014, you take the best of the rest, call them The Kings and base them in PE. They can draw on Border, Boland, Griquas and whoever is surplus to requirements at the other unions. They could even use some new sponsorship money and 'buy' a few players. I reckon there is enough talent in this country to put together another team and blood a few more players. Perhaps a bit more controversially, I also reckon having our players play for Oz and NZ Super Rugby franchises would be good for SA rugby in that it opens spaces for younger players to show their talent and come through... A bit like Spanish and Brazilian footballers in other leagues.

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