Why SA must not drop the Kings

MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day column, writes the Kings Chariot can’t be chased away before midnight and turned back into a pumpkin.

Joel Stransky’s 1995 World Cup-winning drop goal will forever be the most famous, as it won South Africa the World Cup, but the most significant in a unified South African Rugby structure belongs to Southern Kings flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, whose injury time drop goal ensured an historic first overseas Super Rugby win for the tournament’s newest franchise.

Catrakilis kicked a left and right-footed drop goal to inspire Western Province to victory in the 2012 Currie Cup final against the Sharks in Durban, but Saturday’s three pointer represented a victory on a level far greater than just winning a rugby match.

South African rugby has long needed to accommodate the Eastern Cape as a regional Super Rugby franchise, but those opposed to change have always promoted the belief that the franchise would be an embarrassment to South African Rugby and that a team from within the Eastern Cape would be the whipping boys of the tournament.

The argument has never had substance because using that rationale no South African side should be playing in the competition. The Sharks conceded 70-plus points in Christchurch, the Stormers lost 74-28 to the Blues in 1998, the Cats lost 64-0 in Canberra, the Bulls lost 73-9 in Sydney, the Lions often took 50-point plus beatings and so too did the Cheetahs. If you want to talk about embarrassments then take a look through the results archive of Super Rugby since 1996. The Bulls won one match in 22 in Heyneke Meyer’s first stint as head coach and the Lions under Dick Muir lost 17 successive matches.

The Eastern Cape should always have been a part of Super Rugby, and not just as a feeder to the Sharks.

It is imperative that the South African Rugby Union makes every effort to ensure the region’s participation in 2014, instead of relying on a promotion-relegation match for them to get another season’s stay of execution.

Some suggest the Kings got a hand out to play in the tournament. The region got a very necessary political handout, which should have happened long before 2013, but the players and coaching staff have been given nothing but brick walls to break down in their debut season.

Kings Director of Rugby Alan Solomons has done more for the region in the last four years than any rugby coach has done in the region post 1992’s unification.

Solomons, schooled at Grey High, has proved a Godsend for the region. When EP President Cheeky Watson offered him the job and spoke of the greater goal of Super Rugby, Solomons said that to be taken seriously as a rugby entity the province had to start winning rugby games, at club level, at Vodacom Cup level and at Currie Cup level.

He said the province – and by extension the region – had to retain their young players and invest in Academy Structures that cared about the well-being of black and white players in the region.

Solomons’s motto was to keep them home and bring them home. Firstly, though, the team had to be competitive and in time victorious. Solomons believed in a structure that could transform and win at the same time.

His EP Kings and the Southern Kings are evidence of this. In 2011 EP won the First Division League and the next year won the title. In 2008 the team was 14th out of 14 in South Africa.

Space constraints don’t allow for the full story of the Kings last four years. Buy a copy of the latest SA Rugby Magazine and you’ll get an appreciation of just why the Kings are the success story of South African rugby.

The Kings are not an extension of Cheeky Watson’s ego. Read the 20-page magazine spread and you’ll understand the significance of Catrakilis’s drop goal.

This is a region that needs national support to turn the good news story into an even better one next year and the year after … and … and …

Sergeal Peterson and Siviwe Soyzwapi would have been playing under 20 rugby this season. Ronnie Cooke would have been playing in France and who knows if Steven Sykes and Andries Strauss would still be in this country.

Luke Watson would be captaining Bath, Catrakilis would have been in the WP Vodacom Cup team, Waylon Murray would have been overseas, Springbok hooker Bandise Maku would have been spoken of in the past tense and the Southern Hemisphere rugby community would not have known of a loose-trio of Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpy van der Walt and Cornell du Preez.

Solomons would have been working for the IRB and resident in Belfast.

But they are all in Port Elizabeth. My plea to the South African Rugby Union is to make sure they all stay in PE.

This region needs investment. This region represents everything that can be good about the game in this country.

The Kings are the Cinderella of South African Rugby. Don’t chase her home before midnight and turn PE’s 2013 rugby chariot back into a pumpkin of player pity, poverty and political parody.