Marinos backs EC revival

Andy Marinos believes South Africa has enough depth to launch a successful Eastern Cape franchise in Super Rugby.

The country’s sixth franchise will be launched when the Coastal XV plays against the British & Irish Lions on 16 June, with the aim to introduce them to the Super 15 in 2011.

The perennial poor start by South Africa’s two bottom teams – the Lions and Cheetahs –  to this year’s campaign has led to question marks around the viability of adding an extra franchise.

The prospect of reducing the number of teams in Super Rugby was never seriously considered, according to Marinos.

Marinos, the acting MD of SA Rugby, believes many South Africans will be lured back from Europe in future, while other youngsters will re-locate to the headquarters in Port Elizabeth to play for the franchise.

‘We have in excess of 500 players in Europe,’ said Marinos, ‘and a number of talented youngsters left because they were not getting a chance at the top level.

‘The reality is that the Eastern Cape is not the worst place for a young professional to re-locate. There are great schools, great infrastructure, as well as it being a nice place to live.’

Marinos believes the global economic crisis will aid in players returning home.

‘The credit crunch will be a big factor as there could be salary caps placed on European teams, while there could also be restrictions placed on the number of overseas players,’ he said.

‘If guys, from overseas and within South Africa, are offered attractive contracts to play in PE they will be interested. But the franchise must be driven by a good commercial package, which is what we’ve been helping them with.’

The Eastern Cape unions have been riddled with problems such as assassination threats on Border president Cliffie Pringle, resignations, as well financial mismanagement, but Marinos believes progression is being made.

‘Most of the mud slinging has come from Border, and they will be a junior partner. EP have had organisational change and we’ve been working very closely with them on their marketing approach. The Lions match is the launch and we’re confident it will go off well on all levels,’ he said.

If the franchise is included in the Super 15, they will form part of the Australian conference of five teams.

‘They will play other Aussie teams home and away, but will be based in South Africa, so there will be a helluva lot of travelling for them. If they aren’t included in the Aussie conference, there will then be promotion/relegation fixtures with the bottom South African side, but we’re confident they can get in as the extra team.’

The conference system means a lot less travel for the other South African teams as well as more local derbies, which is what the public wants, according to Marinos.

‘This will also make it more competitive as all the South African sides can beat one another,’ said Marinos. ‘Then by the cross-conference matches [against Australian and New Zealand teams], there will be a lot more intensity.’

Marinos insisted SA Rugby is committed to making the Sanzar agreement work.

‘We have already agreed some important principles but the length of the season remains an issue,’ said Marinos. ‘If we were to play a 21-match schedule [SA Rugby favours a 17-match schedule] it would have a major impact on the Currie Cup and the message has come loud and clear from our stakeholders that the tournament remains a vital component of our season.’

Marinos did however, not rule out Sanzar breaking up.

‘The possibilities are always there, but we don’t want to entertain those at this point in time. We remain committed to making Sanzar work.’

By Grant Ball