SIMON BORCHARDT says the Cheetahs and the Lions should play as the Cats again from 2013 to accommodate the Kings.
With Sanzar CEO Greg Peters having made it crystal clear that Super Rugby cannot be expanded to include a sixth South African franchise until the end of 2015 (when the current broadcast deal expires), Saru has to find a way to fit six franchises into five spots.
Saru’s executive council has already voted to include the Kings from 2013, so their place in next year’s tournament is no longer up for debate. They will be there.
This means that Saru either has to relegate one of the current five franchises (probably the Lions, who are last in the SA conference) or create a merger.
The latter option makes the most sense to me as no region would miss out on Super Rugby. In my opinion, South Africa’s two worst-performing franchises in Super Rugby over the past 17 years, the Cheetahs and the Lions, should play as the Cats again from 2013 (having done so from 1998 to 2005), with four league matches being played at Ellis Park and four at the Free State Stadium.
It would be up to the franchise to decide who coaches the Cats. In a perfect world, you’d want both John Mitchell and Naka Drotske on the coaching team, but there’d almost certainly be a clash of egos and understandably so. Picking one of them to be head coach of the Cats at the other’s expense would obviously also create problems in the squad as one group of players would be favoured by a coach who knows them well.
The best way forward would be to appoint a head coach who has no ties to either union or loyalties to either group of players. Someone who would simply pick the best team possible. Someone with a strong personality who would be able to stamp out any discord in the squad and get the players working together.
To me, the obvious candidate to coach a Cats team would be Nick Mallett, who is currently unemployed having been overlooked by England (a decision the RFU may soon come to regret). Mallett is highly respected in South African rugby and if anyone can make the Cats marriage work (as Laurie Mains managed to do in 2001 when the Cats reached the Super 12 semi-finals) it’s him.
In Monday’s Business Day newspaper, when asked about a possible Cats merger, Mitchell was quoted as saying that it ‘could be effective with a strong leader involved.’
He’s right. And that leader should be Mallett.