PRETORIA – It would not have come as much of a surprise that the Southern Kings and Cheetahs were on the losing sides in the opening weekend of the PRO14 competition.
As sad as it is to say, but the results of the two South African franchises were a foregone conclusion looking at the teams they announced before the games against Zebre and Munster on Friday and Saturday.
While Zebre might not be considered a force in European rugby, they still have a cluster of Italian internationals and have enjoyed enough seasons in the competition to know how to use the conditions to their advantage against a naive and inexperienced Kings side.
The Kings had no chance of beating Zebre not because of a lack of talent, but solely based on the lack of experienced players, despite having some of the best talent in the country at their disposal. The Cheetahs were no different against Munster, as the 38-0 scoreline reflected.
With seven debutants within their ranks, the team from Bloemfontein were on a hiding to nothing against one of the giants of European rugby at Thomond Park. Again, the difference is not that the Cheetahs lack talent, but they just don’t have the experience that the rest of their European opponents have to call on.
So what is the solution?
Well, Saru president Mark Alexander had alluded to a drafting system being in the pipeline for South African rugby but it is something that can no longer wait for the powers that be to decide on. Saru need to urgently allow teams like the Kings and Cheetahs to have access to many of the players who are on the fringes of the bigger unions in the Currie Cup as some of them have already played Super Rugby.
Add those big-name players doing the rounds in domestic rugby to the inexperienced squads of the Kings and Cheetahs, and at least for the first half of the PRO14 these teams will not only be competitive but they could easily inflict some defeats on the European sides.
As important as the domestic competitions are to Saru, teams like Griquas, the Pumas, Leopards, Griffons and to a lesser extent Border, Boland and Eastern Province have sprinklings of players who can thrive in the northern hemisphere and justify the talk of two more South African franchises joining the PRO14 next year.
Alexander may have said that all of the unions have agreed in principle to go for the draft system, but the reality of it is that it will take more time than envisaged for it to become a reality.
In the meantime it will be the Kings and Cheetahs, and ultimately South African rugby that continue to suffer as the country’s grand plan of burning the candle from both ends collapses into ashes.
The substandard performances of the Kings, Cheetahs and the Super Rugby franchises this year is not because of a lack of planning but it comes down to the reluctance and self-serving intentions of unions big and small to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the game at the top.