Kings, Saru set for standoff

The Kings are still hoping to have more than two foreigners available for their debut Super Rugby season.

Current regulations state that all South African Super Rugby teams are only allowed two foreign players in their tournament squad.

Last year, the Kings sent a request to Saru for this restriction to be lifted, which would allow the Eastern Cape franchise to put together a competitive squad, as their current crop of players lack international experience. The plea was rejected.

Earlier this month, the Kings named a 40-man squad, which included five foreigners – French hooker Virgil Lacombe, Argentine flank Tomas Leonardi, Kenyan utility forward Daniel Adongo, New Zealand utility back Hadleigh Parkes and Argentine scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo.

Keo.co.za recently contacted Saru with regards to the Kings’ situation, and the national union confirmed that it has not changed its stance on the foreign player rule for any Super Rugby team.

However, EPRFU president Cheeky Watson still believes there is a chance that his franchise will be accommodated despite there being just four and a half weeks before the tournament kicks off.

‘The matter is still under advisement and is being debated,’ Watson told this site.

In terms of transformation, there are only nine South African players of colour in the Kings’ 40-man squad, which is less than what the EP Kings used during their title-winning Currie Cup First Division campaign (14 players of colour in a 41-man squad).

There are also no players called up from neighbouring unions SWD and Border.

However, Watson said Saru’s handling of the Super Rugby saga last year – which saw the Lions relegated and the Kings’ promotion confirmed in August – put them in a tough predicament.

‘While I agree that the number of players of colour could have been higher, one must remember that there have been a substantial number of challenges to the Southern Kings in the build up to the season, including the way in which the opportunity was finally presented to us,’ said Watson.

‘The short notice we were given meant it became impossible for us to bring back players of colour from other regions as they had already signed contracts with other unions. One must also keep in mind the fact that the majority of players of colour in the other unions come from the Eastern Cape.’

The Kings did manage to lure South African centre Ronnie Cooke to PE after a five-year stint in France with Brive and Grenoble. Cooke was a member of the Baby Boks team that won the U21 World Championship in 2005. The 28-year-old also played for the Leopards, Cheetahs and Griquas before his trip to Europe.

The Kings start their Super Rugby campaign against the Force in PE on 23 February.

Kings 40-man Super Rugby squad:

Forwards – Rynier Bernardo, David Bullbring, Kevin Buys, Cornell du Preez, Jacques Engelbrecht, Jaco Engels, Schalk Ferreira, Boetie Britz, Ross Geldenhuys, Lizo Gqoboka, Virgil Lacombe, Tomas Leonardi, Bandise Maku, Edgar Marutlulle, Mpho Mbiyozo, Darron Nell, Daniel Adongo, Devin Oosthuizen, Steven Sykes, Wimpie van der Walt, Luke Watson (c).

Backs – Demetri Catrakilis, Ronnie Cooke, Wesley Dunlop, Siyanda Grey, Johan Herbst, Michael Killian, SP Marais, Scott Mathie, Waylon Murray, Hadleigh Parkes, Sergeal Petersen, Marcello Sampson, Shakes Soyizwapi, Wayne Stevens, Andries Strauss, Elrich van Vuuren, Shaun Venter, Nicolas Vergallo, George Whitehead.

By Gareth Duncan