Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - If rugby performance-related issues alone determined which single South African side should be in for the chop in a reduced future Super Rugby competition, it is a bit of a no-brainer.
The Kings stick out like a sore thumb as first candidates from our shores to be jettisoned, amidst strengthening rumours that SANZAAR wishes to slash the participating teams from current 18 to either 16 or 15.
Veteran Cheetahs boss Harold Verster has already gone on record as saying his franchise will survive, claiming that next year two will be sacrificed.
Under such a scenario, one each from South Africa and Australia seems the likeliest move.
Powerful political forces were at play in the formation of the Eastern Cape outfit in time for their 2013 maiden season, and it will be interesting to gauge government reaction to any move to cull the cash-strapped Kings from 2018.
But if you used results criteria alone as a barometer, the side from Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium would be logical victims - they are a country mile behind domestic franchises when it comes to win ratios.
Nor are gate receipts, including from early evidence this season, demonstrating any healthy signs that the local public are truly embracing the constantly cash-strapped Kings; a glaringly losing culture is simply an extra kiss of death in these challenging economic times.
If you examine all results by South African teams in the competition from the start of the Kings-debuting 2013 season right up to completion of last weekend’s round three of the 2017 tournament (even taking into account the Kings’ “relegation” for two seasons anyway) the PE-based side easily tick the box for most consistent failure.
They have won a mere six of 34 matches in Super Rugby, for a lamentable win ratio of 17.64 percent.
As if to back up Verster’s bullishness about the Free Staters surviving under a new dispensation, the Cheetahs have an infinitely superior win ratio of 37.31 percent – more than double what the Kings can “boast”.
Of course they have played many more games in the period, as uninterrupted participants ... 67, with 25 triumphs.
But it is nevertheless a far superior record, even as historically second-worst performing SA team in the competition since 2013, and it would be a blow to the event’s already under-fire legitimacy and credibility in modern times if any outfit other than the Kings were first sacrifices from our shores in a possible slashing of the combatants.
The Cheetahs have also comfortably beaten the Kings in all of the three meetings between them. In 2013 it was 26-12 in Bloemfontein and 34-22 in Port Elizabeth, and last year’s once-off encounter saw the Cheetahs win 34-20 at home.
Another major drawback, only suggesting even more compellingly that the Kings will go, is that their provincial unit won’t be playing this year in the key domestic “feeder” competition one tier below Super Rugby, the Currie Cup – that has also been rejigged to promote a superior strength-versus-strength principle in 2017.
The EP Kings ended last in the 2016 Currie Cup, with no wins to show from eight matches, and points differential of minus 242. (By contrast, the Cheetahs topped the log with a 100 percent win record, and later won the trophy.)
There is simply no way you can justify, of course, any other SA franchise getting the Super Rugby chop: all of the historically more heavyweight teams (Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks) sport win ratios well above 50 percent from the 2013 campaign onward.
The Lions boast the best record in the period, with a ratio of 58.49 percent.
Here are the win ratios (there have obviously been occasional draws) of all the SA teams, including in any knockout-phase play, since the introduction of the Kings in 2013, right up to matches played last weekend in the 2017 competition:
1. Lions 58.49% (played 53, won 31)
2. Stormers 57.35% (played 68, won 39)
3. Sharks 55.07% (played 69, won 38)
4. Bulls 53.03% (played 66, won 35)
5. Cheetahs 37.31% (played 67, won 25)
6. Kings 17.64% (played 34, won 6)
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