Saru broker deal with Kings, save Lions

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Lions_EllisPark6 Gallo Images The Lions are reportedly heavily in debt with in-fighting hogging the headlines. But they'll play Super Rugby again next year.

The Lions will not be relegated from Super Rugby next year as the Southern Kings have accepted an offer from the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to postpone their inclusion.

According to reliable sources close to the negotiations between Saru and the Eastern Cape franchise, the Kings have agreed to delay their entry into the southern hemisphere regional competition, the toughest provincial competition in world rugby, in exchange for R40-million and guaranteed inclusion in the Currie Cup Premier Division from next year.

In January, Saru controversially announced that the Kings would participate in Super Rugby from next year.

The national rugby union have been back-pedalling ever since as it has emerged they were oblivious to the fact that the tournament cannot be expanded to accommodate a 16th team until the current broadcast deal expires.

The five-year deal, signed last year, is based on a 15-team format.

“Sanzar have sold the current structure of Super Rugby to broadcasters and commercial partners for the period ending December 31, 2015, so until then, expansion of the competition is not possible,” Sanzar (SA, New Zealand and Australia Rugby) chief executive Greg Peters said in February.

Under the agreement brokered by Saru, the Kings will join Super Rugby in 2016 when a new broadcast deal is tabled.

It appears that Saru are banking on winning the bid to field a sixth South African side (the Kings) to safeguard the future of the Lions.

Saru’s mystifying silence on the matter had given rise to the expectation that one of the current South African Conference contenders would be relegated at the end of this season.

And with the Lions languishing in last place, and Cheetahs chief executive Harold Verster having ruled out a possible merger between the teams, the Joburg franchise were deemed to be on the chopping block.

Such a development would likely tip the scales for the Lions, who are reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy and in the throes of a disciplinary investigation regarding suspended coach John Mitchell, who guided the team to the 2011 Currie Cup title.

It is believed that the Kings have been less successful in luring top-flight players to the region than they anticipated and, rather than suffer the embarrassment of being routed from the unforgiving front-lines of Super Rugby battle next year, they will use the cash injection and Currie Cup Premier League opportunity to prepare for their future promotion to the Sanzar competition. – Sunday Independent

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