Tough times and tough questions for the Kings and Cheetahs
JOHANNESBURG – The Southern Kings have won four of their 54 matches since joining the Pro14 competition at the start of the 2017/18 season.
Is that acceptable? Is it good enough, for South African rugby as well as for the Europe-based teams, who agreed to allow the men from the south into their competition?
And, it needs to be asked, at what stage do the organisers start pondering the worth of having the Kings in the Pro14?
The Cheetahs, who were kicked out of Super Rugby a few seasons back and also joined the Pro14, have fared a little better over the last two and a half seasons, but their record also isn’t great.
I feel desperately for the players and even the coaches at the Kings. They work their butts off, as hard as any other professional teams involved in competitions all around Europe and South Africa and Australasia, yet they seem to be on a hiding to nothing every single week.
They’ve sadly made no progress since year one in the Pro14 and the knock-on effect is real: they managed to only draw 2 077 fans to their home game against Cardiff Blues earlier in the season. That’s massively disappointing for such a rugby-rich region of our country and even the visit by the mighty Munster was poor, with just over 3 000 people turning up to watch the game.
Sure, the crowds generally in the Pro14 are not great and it’s not only the Kings battling to get even 5 000 in; the Italian clubs, Benetton and Zebre, hardly ever attract more than two to three thousand. The Cheetahs, too, who’re supposedly every South African’s “second favourite team” have taken a huge knock since leaving Super Rugby, with crowds averaging out at under 5 000.
How then, can these teams survive? They have players to pay, employees to pay and costs to cover for keeping their teams on the field. It costs several thousands to just open up the stadiums on match-day.
As I mentioned in this column last week, which also dealt with dwindling crowds, Super Rugby’s biggest matches are still the local derbies, and in Pro14 it’s exactly the same. The Irish clash involving Ulster and Munster drew nearly 17 500, while the Welsh derby between the Blues and Scarlets attracted just over 12 000 to the venue.
In the back-to-back SA derbies between the Kings and Cheetahs, 4 316 watched the teams in Port Elizabeth and 7 832 turned up in Bloemfontein for the return match. Those were some of the biggest crowds at those two venues over the last two and a half years.
It is sad that outside of Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth the Cheetahs and the Kings have in many respects become an after-thought in South African rugby, and even been forgotten by many rugby followers, who couldn’t care less about the Pro14. Of course it doesn’t help that their results aren’t great and the crowd numbers small, leaving me wondering what the future holds for them?
5 DAYS TO GO until match-day!— Isuzu Southern Kings (@SouthernKingsSA) February 25, 2020
Aston and the boys will kick-off the month of March with an exciting clash against Irish side, Connacht Rugby.
Tha sinn a ’coimhead air adhart ri bhith a’ toirt aoigheachd dhut aig an dachaigh bhrèagha againn @connachtrugby #Uyeza #KINvCON pic.twitter.com/ObGITZ1OYn
I know there has been talk in recent months about more of this country’s Super Rugby teams joining Europe-based competitions but while the lure of European money, easier travel and better time zones are appealing, is it what the fans want - in Europe and in South Africa?
South African rugby bosses, alongside the world game’s leaders, have some big decisions to make in the next few months because surely a team winning four of 54 games in two and a half years isn’t right ...@jacq_west