Arranged Super Rugby marriages just won’t work, especially between Bloem and PE

2011-12-03 00:00

ARRANGED marriages in South African rugby don’t work: there has to be a better way of fitting the Southern Kings into the Super Rugby puzzle than by merging them with the Cheetahs.

Artificial solutions all too often lead only to a plethora of new problems.

Finding the right way to pursue the noble quest to put Eastern Cape rugby back on the map — by introducing it into the southern hemisphere money-spinner from 2013 — remains a matter of great complexity, with no easy answers.

That is especially since the Kings were given their comeuppance on their road to achieve broader recognition during the last Currie Cup first division campaign. They were eclipsed by the Boland Cavaliers, who gave them respective nasty hidings (including in the final).

The Kings didn’t exactly blaze a trail of glory in terms of transformation either. This is one of the key objectives for both regions’ rugby bosses and the government, which, of course, is never very far from any debate about when and how promote transformation.

In the absence of solutions, speculation has centred on what is arguably a crudely manufactured alliance with the Cheetahs.

Protesting, the veteran Cheetahs boss, Harold Verster, has already stated the glaringly obvious, logistically, by making point that “there are few flights between Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth and you can’t drive 650 km every time”.

So the geographical synergy is awkward, to say the least, and trying to foster a meaningful cultural bond, if you like, between two very different rugby regions seems to be a vain exercise.

There have been earlier lessons in the foolhardiness of this sort of thing: the combination of the Lions and Cheetahs as the Golden Cats at one stage in the old Super 12 was hardly a marriage made in heaven, and the Sharks’ former status as the “Coastal Sharks” — featuring official franchise ties with Border and EP — was also riddled with pitfalls.

I remember respected Sharks and Springbok captain Gary Teichmann, while not wishing to pooh-pooh the claims of rugby advancement in those “smaller partner” areas of the time, lamenting a 1999 Sharks fixture in East London where his semi-finalists of the previous year were unexpectedly walloped 34-18 by a Hurricanes outfit who were then the weakest New Zealand team.

He said it never really felt like a home match, with all the supposed benefits that status usually brings.

This season’s first Super Rugby season in its expanded format saw the Cheetahs, so often poor cousins in the past, find some good mojo at times, including much greater competitiveness abroad and a memorable home win over the Crusaders.

Fiddling with that momentum by lumping them with the Kings, and zig-zagging between the Free State Stadium and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for “home” assignments, just doesn’t seem a beneficial move for either party.

It is also not in the broad national interest to dilute the Cheetahs brand: the region remains a phenomenal treasure trove of talent, particularly because of that amazing nursery of Grey College, with flyhalf phenomenon Johan Goosen just one gem to burst to the domestic forefront last season.

The emergence and development of players like him must not be impaired by the creation of a distracting combination with a faraway other region.

A problem with the Kings possibly entering Super Rugby as a stand-alone entity in two years’ time is that their presence would only complicate an already ludicrously congested southern hemisphere season, when a British and Lions tour of Australia has to be squeezed in and bye weekends for the Aussie franchises are going to be extremely hard to factor in.

My gut feel is that the Southern Kings issue will simply stay on a backburner for another few years, regardless of whatever Super Rugby 2013 promises or assurances may have already been made.

Meanwhile, other ways must be thrashed out to skin the cat they call the Southern Kings.

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