Johannesburg - Southern Kings boss Cheeky Watson has admitted his Super Rugby franchise will make approaches to the Lions’ best players ahead of their Super Rugby entry next season.
The Lions – as last-placed finishers in this year’s Super Rugby competition – were on Thursday relegated from next year’s edition, with the Kings taking their place. While “relieved” the Eastern Cape has finally got its own Super Rugby franchise, Watson said the decision by the Saru General Council was “like swallowing a sugar-coated pill”.
“It’s such a late decision and it places us under enormous pressure to be ready in 2013,” lamented Watson. “Also it’s ludicrous to give us a one-year term ... it causes instability.”
Saru’s decision has the worst-placed team next year playing in a promotion-relegation match, home and away, to determine which five SA teams play in the competition in 2014. Should the Kings finish last of the local teams they will play the Lions over two matches to determine who progresses to 2014.
Watson is not happy. “It’s not only about the Kings. What happens if the Bulls suffer a spate of injuries and lose players next year and are relegated ... that’s not right. This decision makes no business sense and it’s not good for rugby.”
Have the Kings been set up to fail? “That decision (to include them) was taken last year, and was always there,” said Saru CEO Jurie Roux. “Being annoyed about being allowed into Super Rugby for a year, if you want to play at the highest level, you’ve got to prove yourself at the highest level. I’m sure that there will still be a lot of debate and proposals to the General Council about entrenchment, but that is a decision that the unions have to make.”
And regarding the expected big return in the number of black players the Kings are likely to produce? “We are certainly not setting them up to fail. It is in South African rugby’s best interests that the Kings succeed. Ultimately, it’s an area that produces future black stars.
“That’s what we want in South African rugby – black stars of the future, but they’re not going to be expected to deliver more than what we expect of the other franchises,” said Saru president Oregan Hoskins.
Watson said his franchise would be ready come February next year. “We’ll deal with the hand that’s been presented to us. There’s no turning back now.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to sign up a few more players between now and the start of the competition next year and yes, we’ll make approaches to Lions players. In fact, we already have. Any player worth his salt wants to play at the highest level, whether it’s for a year or more, so we’ll look to sign some guys.
“This, however, doesn’t mean that the structure and system is right. In the current format, players are simply going to become hired soldiers.”
The Lions players on the Kings’ wish list will be Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute, Joshua Strauss, Derick Minnie, JC Janse van Rensburg, Pat Cilliers and Franco van der Merwe.
Hoskins said his organisation would continue to push Sanzar to expand the competition to allow six SA franchises to compete. “Negotiations on a new broadcast rights deal will begin shortly and the inclusion of six SA teams will be firmly at the top of our agenda,” he said yesterday. As reported by The Star recently, the Lions’ former potential equity partners, Guma-TAC, owned by businessmen Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz, are set to pump millions of rands into the Kings. – The Star