EPRFU president Cheeky Watson tells SA Rugby magazine why the Kings can be a Super Rugby success.
What players have you recruited in the past few months since playing the British & Irish Lions?
De Wet Barry has been playing for EP in the Currie Cup First Division, while we have also signed Jaco van Schalkwyk, who has returned from Roma in Italy. We have brought in promising Sharks loose forward Warren Whiteley, as well as guys who hail from this region, such as flyhalf Wesley Dunlop – who came from the Sharks Academy – wingers Rocco Jansen [Bulls] and Howard Noble [Cheetahs], as well as former UCT fetcher Enoch Panya. We have started the building process without hampering the director of rugby’s plans, as he obviously has players he wants to sign.
Why haven’t you announced a director of rugby yet?
It’s basically confirmed that Alan Solomons will take the role, we are just waiting for Sanzar’s confirmation of the 15th franchise. We can only clarify it then. It’s a similar situation regarding the players we hope to sign, as they can only advertise themselves once we officially have a Super Rugby franchise. All our planning is being done as though we are 100% certain that we will become the 15th team in Super Rugby. [Assistant coach] Robbie Kempson is with us on a full-time basis, and he’s in constant contact with Solly. Gareth Wright has come on board as our kicking coach and will be handling technical issues. Solly will make changes in the future, but he will be coming into a stable environment.
There has been much in-fighting between the rival groups for the Melbourne franchise. How does that strengthen the Kings’ Super Rugby bid?
It does give us a sense of optimism, but I don’t like to comment on their issues. We
must also bear in mind that there are some wily people in Australia, and you never know if they are just throwing out a red herring, or whether there is genuine dissension and dissatisfaction among the parties.
The appointment of an MD is also crucial in the process of getting the Kings up and running. How’s that going?
That process is at a sensitive stage, and I imagine it will be someone within the system here – we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. It will be someone who has the total support of the rugby community here, as well as someone who the general rugby public will be happy with. That person will have aggressive business principles and will be given leeway like never before, as we are embarking on a fresh start.
The Kings have aspirations of playing in next year’s Currie Cup Premier Division. Can you see that happening?
We are still discussing that with SA Rugby, but I can’t imagine there would be any resistance. About 20 years ago, the Currie Cup was rearranged to bring Natal in, when they were known as the Banana Boys. The Sharks have never looked back, and we all know how successful they are as a franchise. It’s vitally important for the success of this region that we have a franchise playing in the Currie Cup, so SA Rugby will have to think out of the box. The three unions – EP, Border and SWD – will also have to be happy to let their stars play for the Kings in the Premier Division.
Have you managed to secure any major sponsors, to ensure the sustained success of the Kings franchise?
With the current turnaround in EP rugby, there is tremendous business confidence within the region. At one of our recent matches against SWD at the EPRFU Stadium there was the biggest crowd seen in 10 years – 8 000 fans turned up. There is a lot of interest, but obviously the big sponsors which are really going to turn things around and get us on an even footing will only come to the fore once the franchise is granted.
By Grant Ball
– This article first appeared in the October issue of SA Rugby magazine