Lions in the Super Rugby firing line

2012-05-12 19:08

With the SA Rugby Union (Saru) confirming its plan to relegate the last-placed Super Rugby franchise, the feline teams are in trouble. Either the Lions or the Cheetahs will be staring down the barrel come the end of the season.

On Friday Saru sent out a press release stating that the bottom-placed South African franchise (the Lions as it stands) will make way for the Southern Kings.

This comes in the wake of Blue Bulls company chief executive Barend van Graan telling City Press that he supports the inclusion of the Kings.

“The Bulls support the inclusion and are in favour of the Kings playing Super Rugby. We asked for a sixth franchise, but I don’t have enough information to go deeper into the issue,” he told City Press.

A Cheetahs official said their chief executive, Harold Verster, would not be able to comment because Saru still had to meet to discuss the issue on Thursday. Earlier this week though, Verster told Volksblad that to merge the Lions and the Cheetahs would present practical complications.

Lions coach John Mitchell has come out in favour of a merger. The sides were once united as the Golden Cats, then known as the Cats from 1998 to 2005. Both have taken turns at being the worst South African Super Rugby team, but this season the Lions have opened the gap by a comfortable margin.

The Johannesburg-based side looks likely to go down.

Besides the 2000 and 2001 seasons, when the Cats reached the then Super 12 semifinals under New Zealander Laurie Mains, they have failed to hit those heights, let alone come close to them. After those heady days, their highest position was 11th in the 2002 and 2005 seasons when they were given a hiding by both the Bulls and the Sharks.

At the time of writing, the Lions had 14 points from 10 games, leaving them stone last in both the South African and combined logs, whereas the Cheetahs had 26 points from the same number of games. The Cheetahs’ points tally does not take into consideration last night’s game against the Stormers.

SA Rugby Players’ Association chief executive Piet Heymans said Saru did not err in announcing a sixth Super Rugby team in light of the current broadcasting deal, which expires in 2015, but emphasised it would be difficult to say whether the Lions deserved to remain in Super Rugby.

“It is up to each of the three national rugby bodies making up Sanzar to determine their participants in the Super Rugby competition,” he told City Press.

“But it would be difficult to say whether they deserve their Super Rugby status because they have had numerous injuries that have affected their form and performance.”

Heymans said the fact that the Lions did not have many international players could help their cause, but added that sponsorship was a difficult factor to predict.

“Players such as Elton (Jantjies) and other young and upcoming players could be loaned to the EP Kings for the Super Rugby Competition period in 2013. Some players might not renew their contracts with the Lions for 2013 and will move to other unions,” Heymans said.

“I am not sure for how long some of the current sponsorship deals are for, and the terms and conditions
thereof.

“However, the challenge will be to get the sponsors to support the team to regain their Super Rugby status after the 2013 Super Rugby Competition,” Heymans said.

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