CAPE TOWN – The Southern Kings’ new ownership could lay a solid transformation foundation.
And it would be a long-awaited occurrence.
The fairly recent performances of the junior sides would have done enough to show just how much help the Eastern Province sides need. And it also explains why, higher up, their representative sides have continued to struggle.
But now, Eastern Cape rugby have a chance to do things differently - as the first black-owned rugby franchise in the country.
While the new chairman of the Kings, Loyiso Dotwana, said the franchise would be run along key business principles, it’s the return of a rugby academy that should evoke the most excitement.
The Southern Kings franchise sold a 74% stake to a local consortium that will now take over primary funding of the club, enabling SA Rugby to pass on a 26% shareholding to the EPRU.
SA Rugby has been funding the Kings and their participation in the PRO14 after the EPRU ran into financial trouble and have since sold the shares to a company called The Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (Pty) Ltd (GRC).
Promising prospects have since been mentioned by the new owners, like the establishment of an academy that would be focused on nurturing and retaining local talent. And should that come to fruition, it’ll be a move that will finally signal a new dawn for the cradle of black rugby.
Think of the likes of Aphiwe Dyantyi, Scarra Ntubeni, Rosko Specman, Lukhanyo Am and, of course, Siya Kolisi. All EP products who have made a massive mark on the local rugby scene.
The mere fact that the Eastern Province has until now primarily functioned as a factory for black rugby excellence - without enjoying the profit that comes with that never-ending production - is a shame.
Dotwana has emphasised that development at grassroots level will be key going forward.
“Our community programmes will be targeted at developing rugby at a grassroots level, recognising that the Eastern Cape is the home of black rugby in South Africa,” said Dotwana.
And it’s about time.
Imagine young players from the Eastern Province getting the rugby education they need in their own backyard.
Imagine more young blacks players being exposed to the kind of training and guidance that’s needed to make it to the highest level. More young black players getting everything that’s needed, in addition to just training, to succeed.
Imagine more young black players being afforded the privilege of getting all of that without having to go too far away from home. Because, while these “big” rugby schools might offer great chances, we often forget how challenging it can be being so far away from home and the negatives that come with it. A bursary only does so much.
It might limit the lure to other schools and, in return, ensure that that talent remains in the Eastern Province.
Ultimately, it could result in more black players coming through.
It won’t be the case for all players, of course. Some will still choose to pursue different routes. But imagine the impact it can have on the Eastern Cape’s senior sides should these new plans result in retaining just 30 percent more talent.
It won’t solve all our rugby problems. It won’t magically level the playing field and ensure major competitions suddenly see more black head coaches or black players are seen for the quality that they produce as opposed to merely being quotas, but it’s a start.
And it’s a start the cradle of black rugby has waited too long for.@WynonaLouw