Criticism all round as Lions give way to Saru

2012-08-17 00:00

THE Lions are out, the Southern Kings are in — and no one seems particularly happy.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) general council members decided yesterday, finally, to stay with their decision and include the Kings in the 2013 Super Rugby competition, with the Lions dropping out for at least one year.

The Lions were offered the carrot of a promotion/relegation match against the lowest-placed South African franchise next year to determine the 2014 participant.

This, in turn, has annoyed Southern Kings’ president Cheeky Watson and he later said he would appeal Saru’s decision to guarantee them only one year in Super Rugby.

“It doesn’t make sense in any sector of society that you are sitting with a scenario that you are in Super Rugby for one year and expected to achieve,” Watson said after the meeting.

“I think it is a ludicrous decision. It doesn’t make sense in rugby, not in business, not in the church.”

He later told reporters that the Kings would appeal the decision.

“It cannot be accepted,” he said, adding that that the Kings deserved at least three years in the competition.

It has taken seven months to confirm the executive council’s proposal, but speculation has since been rife that a financial deal would be struck to keep the Kings satisfied and the Lions in Super Rugby.

There was also an agreement between the five existing franchises that they would stand firmly together and resist relegation being forced on them.

But yesterday this all seemed forgotten as the members reportedly voted 23-6 in favour of the Kings’ inclusion, and they will join the Sharks, Stormers, Bulls and Cheetahs in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

The cash-strapped Lions, with major headaches on and off the field and their two New Zealand coaches, John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer, recently axed, now face an exodus of their leading players and sponsors.

There is the possibility that they could take their fight to the courts, with Lions president Kevin de Klerk saying yesterday that they would take time to consider their options.

“We are extremely disappointed at this result,” he said in a statement. “This is a very unfortunate decision, which will result in a team taking part in a competition without needing to qualify on rugby merits.

“We will take time to consider this decision and then to plan our response that best protects our players, staff, stakeholders and supporters.

“We had hoped the immense amount of work that we did in the background — ourselves and with Saru — would have culminated in a better result.”

De Klerk said he was at least relieved that the Lions would have a chance to regain their place in Super Rugby next year.

Saru confirmed that the promotion/relegation playoff would also be in place in 2014 and 2015, at which point the broadcast rights contract expires and a different format could be considered.

Saru president Regan Hoskins said the decision to include an Eastern Cape franchise in the Super Rugby tournament was first made in 2005, but was twice postponed.

“All rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Super Rugby competition,” Hoskins said.

“We made a commitment to the Kings to include them in 2013, delivered on that commitment.

“The franchise represents more clubs than any other region — apart from the Stormers — and contains numerous leading rugby schools.

“It has been starved of top-class rugby competition for a decade-and-a-half and now it has the chance to show what it can do.”

The irony, of course, is that the Golden Lions are the current Currie Cup champions, while Eastern Province failed to reach the playoffs in the Vodacom Cup last year.

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