JOHANNESBURG – The Golden Lions Rugby Union will soon start the process of finding a new leader for the pack.
This follows the announcement on Wednesday that long-serving president Kevin de Klerk has decided to call it a day.
At 68, the former Springbok lock has opted to spend more time with his family – “to go fishing and hunting,” he said – but also because of his business interests.
De Klerk was elected president in July 2009 and was part of the big rebuilding process of the Lions brand, which brought much success in recent years, but things were initially not good.
“The exclusion from Super Rugby (to make way for the Kings) in 2013 was devastating,” said De Klerk at a press briefing on Wednesday. “The costs of that were immense ... we were forced to arrange our own tournament to play in and didn’t even have a sponsor on our jerseys ... we played with a big question mark,” he recalled.
There were indeed lean times for the Lions, but with Johan Ackermann in charge things soon changed. De Klerk would be part of the Super Rugby good times when under Ackermann and this year Swys de Bruin, the Lions would win their conference and play in the final three times in a row.
The Lions have also produced 20 Springboks in the last 10 years, and also won two Currie Cup titles. De Klerk said the Currie Cup final victory in 2011 – when John Mitchell was still coach – was a big highlight.
“There was a bit of arrogance in that Sharks team and we were really the big underdogs, but we won 42-17, and it could have been more,” remembered De Klerk.
He said the appointment of Ackermann as coach following Mitchell’s departure in 2012 was hugely significant. “Johan coming in was big ... his whole style was so different, and it changed everything really. And Swys has carried that one this year.
“Also very satisfying has been the way so many ‘throwaways’ at other unions came here and starred, became Springboks ... just look at Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronje, Franco Mostert; they were all young players when they started here, and look at them now.
“There was a time here at the Lions, not too long ago, when we didn’t have any money; we had to make do with what we had ... and to think where we are now; that’s the real success story.”
De Klerk said the biggest challenge facing provincial unions and SA Rugby in general in future was the pull of the pound in Europe. “It’s going to be more and more difficult in future to retain a core group of experienced players ... that’s going to be our biggest challenge, without a doubt,” said De Klerk.
De Klerk will exit the union over the coming weeks with an election to pick a new president set to follow thereafter.