PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 04, during the 2012 Super Rugby pre-season friendly match between EP Kings and Vodacom Bulls from Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on February 04, 2012 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa Photo by Michael Sheehan / Gallo Images

The Guma-TAC group, one-time potential equity partners of the Lions, are apparently on the verge of acquiring a major stake in the Southern Kings.

Jointly led by businessmen Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz, Guma-TAC were set to become major shareholders in the Lions, but the failure of the parties to reach an agreement ended with Guma-TAC withdrawing from the deal. They now, however, appear ready to return to rugby at the Kings – the side who may in all likelihood replace the Lions in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) and representatives of the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks, Stormers and Kings meet in Johannesburg today to discuss the Kings’ entry into Super Rugby and the mechanism to be used to determine which five teams, one of which will be the Kings, will play Super Rugby next year.

Saru have already stated the last placed team in the South African Conference this year may drop out to accommodate the Kings. The Lions currently occupy last spot on the log, having won once in 10 matches.

It was learned by The Star on Wednesday that Guma-TAC may buy out Saru’s shareholding in the EP Kings and thus become the major player in the Kings franchise. Neither Gumede nor Ichikowitz was available for comment yesterday as both are overseas, but EP Kings president Cheeky Watson confirmed an equity partner was ready to sign up with the Kings, but didn’t elaborate.

With money in the bank, the Kings could go on a buying spree and their first stop could very well be the Lions. With several players’ contracts coming to an end in October, many, including the likes of Butch James, Wikus van Heerden and Cobus Grobbelaar, will no doubt be considering their futures.

Already, veteran centre Doppies la Grange has opted out of the Lions, signing a two-year deal with Benetton Treviso in Italy. He said on Wednesday he needed a “fresh beginning”.

“I’ve not had too many opportunities to travel in my career, having played all my senior rugby at the Lions ... and this is an opportunity for me to do that,” he said. “It’s a fresh challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

With so much uncertainty around the future of the Lions – a final decision on Super Rugby participation is to be made only in mid-July – and talk of the recent financial woes at the union still fresh in the air, it is understood that several players and even backroom staff are looking elsewhere for employment. The window for players to start negotiations with other unions opens on July 1 and it is understood a number of senior Lions players, who realise they only have two to three years left in the game, are considering moving on.

“There are a few alternatives (to the last-placed team dropping out) we want to put forward at tomorrow’s meeting (today),” said acting Lions CEO Ruben Moggee, “but it’s best not to discuss these now. There is no easy solution (to the Kings’ entry into Super Rugby) and it’s a delicate situation.”

And backing up Lions senior coach John Mitchell, who recently stated the uncertainty about Super Rugby participation was doing the players no good, Moggee said: “It’s normal for the players to be considering what lies ahead for them ... What standard of rugby will they be involved in?, Will they get paid? Will they get loaned out?”

It has further been learned that whoever is “relegated”, Saru will help organise matches for them during the Super Rugby competition to keep them up to standard for their promotion/relegation match against the last-placed South African team at the end of the 2013 competition.

Saru are apparently hoping to arrange up to eight games to be played at that team’s home ground against countries like Samoa, Fiji, Canada, the USA and some teams from Europe. – The Star