Alan Solomons says the failure to award a franchise to the Southern Kings is hampering their ability to attract quality players.
The Kings have already lost the bid for the 15th franchise in the 2011 Super 15, but officials still believe they should be included at the expense of one of the weaker South African teams. Saru has plans to introduce the Kings in 2013, but Kings officials believe they’re ready to compete in the tournament next year.
The only problem is no players are willing to commit unless the South Eastern Cape is guaranteed a franchise. Solomons, the Kings’ director of rugby, said Saru needs to award them a franchise as soon as possible.
‘As soon as Saru gives us the franchise we will be able to start approaching and contracting players,’ Solomons said. ‘The constant delays are prejudicing our ability to contract players. Every time there is a delay there is an opportunity lost and we cannot secure the services of quality players who have expressed the desire to play for the Southern Kings’
According to Solomons, the Kings have already missed out on signing a number of players due to Saru’s delays.
‘There are players who have approached me saying that they want to play for the Southern Kings. But they can’t wait too long because they also have to think about their future. If we had confirmation of our participation in the Super 15 we would be in a stronger position to offer these players contracts.’
The Kings will need to contract players outside the region in order to be competitive, but Solomons said there are long-term plans to ensure the talent within the area is not lured away to other franchises. Of course, the Kings need a Super Rugby franchise to prevent their youngsters from seeking fame and fortune elsewhere.
‘This region has haemorrhaged so many players in the past because there has not been a Super Rugby incentive to keep them here. We have some of the top rugby schools in the country but have been unable to hold onto this talent because there is no Super Rugby franchise.
‘Likewise the University team [NMMU] has battled in the Varsity Cup because so many talented players have left the region after finishing school. The three provinces that make up the Southern Kings are the only three in South Africa that do not have Super Rugby representation so it is obvious that players will move away.
‘However, if there is a Super Rugby incentive we will retain the majority of players, many of them black players, which is vital for the transformation of the game. This region is the cradle of black rugby and our players should be able to play their rugby here and give something back to their communities.
‘At this stage they are prohibited from doing this because there is no aspirational pathway and they are forced to further their rugby careers elsewhere. We want to bring our players back home and keep them home. We know it will take time before we are in a position to contract an entire squad from within the region but there must be a means to an end and at the moment the best way to achieve that is to initially spread the net wide in contracting our squad.
‘We showed in the one-off against the British & Irish Lions last year that you can be competitive if you contract players on this basis. We will also establish a rugby academy that will play a big role in ensuring that talented schoolboys are identified at an early age and that they remain in the province.’
Solomons said there were three areas from which a Kings squad could be contracted for the Super 15 in 2011.
‘There are South African players based in the northern hemisphere who either are coming to the end of their contracts or may be renegotiating new contracts. If we know that we have a franchise we can approach these players, many of whom are keen to come back to South Africa. But, there is urgency involved and we need to get to them before they commit elsewhere. Unfortunately we cannot move until we know we have a franchise.
‘There are also players in South Africa, some with Super Rugby experience, who are close to renewing their provincial contracts and who would consider a move to the Eastern Cape if there is an incentive to do so. There are also some talented players from within the region who have the ability to make the step up if given the chance.’
The former Bok assistant coach said the Kings are also ready to go in terms of management and coaching staff. ‘If we are given a franchise tomorrow we can immediately activate an experienced management team. These are people who committed themselves to the Southern Kings for the Super 15 bid in 2009 and who have confirmed they are still available,’ he said.