Saru’s Super Rugby solution not set in stone

GARETH DUNCAN says while most of South Africa bemoaned Saru’s decision-making in accommodating the Southern Kings next season, many missed the fine print.

On Thursday last week, Saru announced that the Lions would be relegated from the South African Super Rugby conference in order to make way for the Kings. This was the decision voted by majority of the 14 unions at the annual general meeting, after no other suitable solution could be drawn up after months and months of negotiations and emergency meetings.

Saru also announced its promotion-relegation initiative, which will allow the Lions to compete for a Super Rugby place in 2014 as they’ll face next year’s last placed South African franchise in a play-off.

Many pundits see this as a lose-lose situation. And they are right.

Let’s look at the Kings.

It’s ridiculous to expect them to escape the wooden spoon in their debut season (well, at least in the South African conference which was the strongest group in this year’s competition). Super Rugby trends have proven that the newbies don’t do well during their early years. The Melbourne Rebels and Western Force finished last in their debut campaigns and still feature in the bottom half of the table every season, despite the odd upset victory. The Lions and Cheetahs haven’t fared much better since splitting from the Cats initiative in 2006.

The Kings will also struggle to recruit the necessary player base to be competitive at Super Rugby level. High-profile names will be hesitant to sign a one-year contract as the Eastern Cape franchise can’t guarantee tournament participation in 2014.

Saru’s answer to the media’s question of the Kings not being given enough time to carry out the necessary plans to ensure they will be competitive in 2013 was that the confirmation on their exclusion was made ‘several months ago’.

If this is so, the national administrators handled the situation poorly.

There were several stories that speculated the Kings were going to be dropped at the last minute. This including the report from the Weekend Argus in July that Saru offered the Eastern Cape franchise R40 million to stall their Super Rugby ambitions until 2016. If this was false, why didn’t Saru come out publicly and denounce these rumours?

This did the Kings no favours.

Kings boss Cheeky Watson has complained that they’re not happy with being given only one season to prove themselves. But Saru CEO Jurie Roux has revealed a way for them to extend their stay.

While most of the media focused on lamenting Saru’s decision, Roux confirmed that if the Kings received the majority vote to have an extended stay in Super Rugby at the next annual general meeting, and if this was passed by Saru’s executive council, then it would be granted.

Roux did, however, add that this is unlikely.

When it comes to the Lions, they’re in a very tricky situation.

While they’re in the Super Rugby wilderness, they’re also in trouble financially as reported on on Wednesday.

Saru confirmed that they are in negotiations with powers up north to see if the Lions could compete in any European competitions in 2013, but this is unlikely to happen as the European season starts in a couple of weeks.

However, Roux revealed a way for the Lions to feature in Super Rugby next season. He said the South African franchises are ‘businesses’ and they are allowed to run their ‘businesses’ as they’re pleased. So if the Lions were to amalgamate with another South African franchise, this would be allowed.

The only issue is, who would want to merge with a franchise in financial turmoil? The Lions have shot themselves in the foot (maybe even the chest) in the way they’ve run their business.

Saru’s Super Rugby solution is not set in stone. The Lions and Kings are likely to appeal its current terms, but the national union is unlikely to budge. If possible, the franchises should look at the fine print to solve their woes, more so the Kings.

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