JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 24, Drinks during the MTN Lions media open day from Johannesburg Stadium, A Field on April 24, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

The Lions’ Super Rugby fate will be known on Thursday when the country’s rugby bosses vote on South Africa’s participants in next year’s competition.

As the weakest local team, the Joburg-based Lions are in danger of losing their Super Rugby status to the Southern Kings from the Eastern Cape, who over the last few years have been promised participation in the competition.

Earlier this year, the South African Rugby Union promised the Kings they would play Super Rugby in 2013, with the last-placed SA team in the competition standings having to stand down.

The Lions finished 15th, stone last, in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

Attempts by Saru to expand the Super Rugby competition to 16 teams next year failed, meaning there is still only place for five local sides in the competition. The Saru General Council will on Thursday vote on the make-up of those five teams and whether two sides, such as the Lions and Kings, or the Lions and Cheetahs, join forces to play as one team.

It would appear the only three sides certain of not being fiddled with are the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks – by far South Africa’s strongest and best performing outfits.

Despite promises made by Saru and the Lions that no team will be negatively affected by the Kings becoming Super Rugby participants next year, The Star has learned the only option available to the General Council is to vote that the worst performing team be demoted.

According to a source close to the developments, the feeling is that there is now simply not enough time before teams start preparing for next year’s competition – four months – for any other decision to be made. The Kings have been promised a spot and they’ll get their place, but at the expense of one of the current teams, possibly the Lions, the source said.

And that would have far-reaching ramifications for the region. Not only would the Lions and Johannesburg suffer, but the Super Rugby franchise partners, the Leopards and Pumas as well. These two smaller unions are already battling and they haven’t been helped by the Lions allegedly not paying them millions of rands they say are owed to them through their partnership. The matter went to arbitration last week and a ruling is expected on Thursday.

Furthermore, several players currently wearing the red and white and who starred for the Lions in last year’s Currie Cup run, may well opt out of their contracts should they not play Super Rugby in 2013. While the majority of the current group are signed up till the end of next season, it is understood that several players – among them Elton Jantjies, Joshua Strauss and Jaco Taute – have get-out clauses should the Lions be relegated from Super Rugby.

It is believed teams such as the Sharks, Bulls and Western Province are just awaiting the outcome of today’s General Council vote before making an approach to these Lions stars ... and possibly a few others too. – The Star