The Bulls have inadvertently revealed what it takes to run a Super Rugby squad.
In light of the SA Rugby Union (Saru) having to step in to sort out what has been described as the Kings’ “mess”, you have to wonder whether the Eastern Cape franchise is going to be an embarrassment to South African rugby.
With EP Kings players not being paid, some making hasty departures and franchise president Cheeky Watson spinning line after line, the full extent of what needs to be done is contained in an innocuous email from the Bulls. The Pretoria outfit, which sustains a strong flow of media information, merely wanted to confirm their management teams for the 2016 season.
But what it revealed was that to be properly set up for Super Rugby, a union pretty much needs a coach, or some member of backroom staff, for every player.
Obviously the Bulls, debt-free and with substantial sponsorship from Vodacom, ride first class, but their payroll shows how expensive it is to compete in Super Rugby.
The full list is made up of coaches, assistants, baggage masters (critical for when the teams are travelling), technical coaches, doctors, physios and a psychologist, adding up to 40 people.
At an average salary of, say, R30 000 (which is probably on the low side given the wages commanded by the senior men), that amounts to a monthly payroll of R1.2 million and more than R14 million annually.
And that’s just for staff. The players are more pricy.
Most Super Rugby teams settle on a squad of about 40 players – and the better the line-up, the higher the salary bill. A squad packed with internationals will come at a higher cost, but it is easy to see that just keeping a team going could easily reach the R40 million mark.
And that is without management and office staff and the cost of keeping a stadium running efficiently.
With the Kings, once the Southern Spears, already having been an expensive item on Saru’s balance sheet, the perennial “problem child” is clearly going to be a heavy burden for the union to carry.
In the current economic climate, sponsorship will be hard to come by and, on top of that, Saru stands to lose Absa’s backing for the Currie Cup.
Top players, too, are not two a penny. Many have left for overseas, others are committed to contracts with other teams, and the Kings’ problems will make those who are available reluctant to commit.
But some good may yet come of Saru’s intervention.
It would put one franchise under the direct control of the mother body – and in so doing, be closer to the successful New Zealand system where the New Zealand Rugby Football Union controls player movements and salaries.
Saru will also be able to stamp a transformation component on the Kings – representative as they are of the most well-populated three provinces in terms of black rugby.
In fact, if that is not the ultimate aim of pressing to have the Kings included in an 18-team revamped Super Rugby tournament, then Saru would have wasted its time.
Another offshoot should be the establishment of proper academies to nurture the talent present in the Eastern Cape hinterland and the intensive involvement of Rassie Erasmus’ high-performance coaches.
Supervising the Kings will come at a high price for Saru, but they could yet become competitive if properly managed.
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