Cape Town - Another rocky rugby year in several respects ... yet a stubborn devotion to the current senior leadership.
That was the primary feature of a lengthy annual meeting of the South African Rugby Union at a Newlands hotel on Friday.
The boardroom stays pretty immune, it seems, to the tremors caused by the slide of the twice World Cup-winning Springboks to No 6 on the World Rugby rankings, the failure of national coach Allister Coetzee to see out his intended term, and another worrisome fiscal year both for the parent body and some of its crisis-torn franchises.
SARU had already revealed a few days ago a loss of around R33.3-million for the 2017 financial year, some R10-million more than the one recorded for 2016.
The situation flies rather in the face of confident pledges made by Mark Alexander when he assumed the presidency in late 2016, including that "our No 1 priority is a turnaround strategy for the Springbok team" and "financial sustainability is a major focus right now".
Yet at Friday's get-together Alexander was voted in by "clear majority" for a further four-year period, beating off the leadership challenge posed by Advocate Andre May, boss of the second-tier Leopards province.
Another smaller-union bid - Dr Jan Marais of the Griffons grappling incumbent Francois Davids for the vice-presidency - similarly came to naught; ex-Boland boss Davids, once accused of nepotistic tendencies in the hot seat there, earned a two-year extension.
Two additions were made to the executive council, Hein Mentz of the Pumas and Lindsay Mould (Free State), with a high-profile elimination early in the voting process being Thelo Wakefield, president of deeply embattled WP Rugby.
They are embroiled in a marathon legal battle with former commercial partner Aerios - an advertising rights dispute which includes a multimillion-rand claim by the Green Point-based company - and have faced enormous liquidity problems, especially since powerful investment company Remgro pulled the plug on their loyalty to WP and sought repayment of some R40-m in loans.
Ahead of his confirmed extension of powers, Alexander admitted that SARU had experienced "a very difficult period" and urged delegates to "join hands and proceed with (the intended) aggressive turnaround drive."
He cut an ebullient enough figure, too, at a media briefing afterwards, pointing to the value of continuity at the top.
"We started this process and we have to complete it. When we started, we said it would be a two-and-a-half-year process ... imagine if we had to vote some new people in: there’d be a new process starting, and we’d have lost all the things we’ve put in place thus far.
"Where we are ... we're on the right track, on target. If certain things had (worked out) differently in the financials, we’d have been in a far better (position)."
Asked by Sport24 how confident he was that the battering of the last two fiscals could be staved off and a stabilisation phenomenon take root for 2018, Alexander replied: "Look, if we take out the (failed bid for) the World Cup (of 2023) ... had received the money we'd hoped we'd have got from Government in 2017 ... we'd have projected a plus-minus R6-million profit.
"We are happy we're on track. We cut our budgets to suit secured income streams, cut all the unfunded projects. There's a lot of noise out there ... we must just keeping ticking the boxes, (to stay) on the recovery route as SARU."
Alexander also sounded reasonably bullish that one of the arms of SARU that has been under loss-making pressure, the Springbok Experience museum in the Waterfront - launched in 2013 - could be saved.
"We are busy looking at a commercial partner coming in and assisting, and we are also talking with Government. The last thing we want to do is close the museum, but if it is going to be a financial burden, we will have to do something drastic. It would be a sad day for rugby."
He was asked what his message would be to South African rugby-lovers seeing the Springboks and domestic Super Rugby teams too often struggle, and believing much was wrong with SA Rugby: "People see the Springboks as the shop window ... regardless of the millions of other things we do in rugby, they see the Boks as the shop.
"We understand that. We understand we have passionate supporters, and appreciate their support. But where we are now with Rassie (Erasmus, as head coach and director of rugby) ... we are building for 2019, that’s the pinnacle.
"Rassie has an aggressive plan to turn things around and we support that plan fully. It's about what happens on the field, not what happens in the boardroom; we understand the public."
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