Saru must deliver on Kings promise

Reports that the Kings are set to play Super Rugby in 2013 must officially be made a reality by Saru, argues GRANT BALL.

Without the lure of Super Rugby for their players, Eastern Province, Border, and SWD have long been haemorrhaging talent. From schools level promising black players are snaffled by schools in Johannesburg, even illegally paying some U18 players to move north.

The latest news on the issue is that the Kings will join an expanded Super 16 in 2013, not in 2011 via a promotion/relegation system. Reports suggest a proposal by South Africa at a Sanzar meeting has been accepted in principle by New Zealand and Australia and a working committee will iron out the finer details of the issue.

But only once Saru makes this official and put it in writing, will the Kings truly believe they’re included in the Super Rugby fold. There have been too many broken promises over the past decade for the rugby people in the Eastern Cape to think otherwise.

The sooner Saru officially announces the Kings will play Super Rugby in two-and-a-half years’ time, the sooner they’ll be able to contract some high-profile overseas players – who have shown interest in playing in Port Elizabeth. If Saru make it official, the building of an academy in the region will help retain the best local young talent – black and white.

The biggest coup for the region’s rugby in gaining a Super Rugby entry has been the official appointment of Alan Solomons as director of rugby of the Kings and EP’s coach for this year’s Currie Cup First Division. Solomons is world renowned, but is a local boy having been schooled in PE, and his reputation is enough to entice players there. His rugby knowledge will also improve the side, and what he did with a makeshift side in one week when the Kings played the Lions last year is an apt example. Having a respected figure heading the team will be attractive to potential sponsors (who will, however, only put money in once Saru make this official and show it’s not another red herring).

Solomons will be eager to prove that the Kings are deserving of a place in Super Rugby. That will mean gaining promotion to the Currie Cup Premier Division this year, competing admirably there in 2011, and being a force by 2012 to ensure the players have confidence to believe they’re good enough for Super Rugby.

Over the next two weekends, EP – who form the base of operations for the franchise – face their biggest challenges to gaining promotion when they play the Griffons at home, and Boland away. Winning those games will go along way to proving their aptitude to be promoted.

Solomons has done some interesting recruitment in the past year, with De Wet Barry, Jaco van Schalkwyk, Rory Duncan, Darron Nell, Tiger Mangweni, and Zolani Mofu joining the side. Some may describe them as seasoned journeymen, but the latter quartet are all from the region and will play a vital role in bringing through the next breed of player, such as locally-produced loose forward Jacques Potgieter.

Those that will be around in 2013 with Potgieter include promising buys such as former Varsity Cup stars Donald Stevens (Maties scrumhalf), Wayne Stevens (UFS centre) and JJ Gagiano (UCT No 8). Barry and co aren’t likely to be still playing by 2013, but along with Solomons they’ll play an important role in mentoring those players.

Solomons’ plan is clear and his pulling power evident. It’s now up to Oregan Hoskins and Andy Marinos at Saru to ensure the official announcement is forthcoming.

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