The 'big five' take a stand

2012-02-13 00:00

THE five South African franchises threatened with exclusion from Super Rugby are standing together and insisting they will be part of next year’s competition.

The Sharks, Bulls, Stormers, Cheetahs and Lions met last week and sent SA Rugby Union (Saru) a letter in which they said they would support an expansion of the 2013 competition to 16 teams, but would not accept one of them being excluded in favour of the Southern Kings.

Saru recently promised the Kings a place in next year’s competition without ensuring how they would be accommodated.

A senior South African official told The Witness that dropping one of the existing franchises would be a killer blow for rugby in that area.

“Contracts and sponsorships are in place and the various teams have massive support bases. Dropping out of Super Rugby would do massive damage to the relegated franchise. If the Kings are to play in the 2013 tournament, then Sanzar simply has to extend the competition to 16 teams with six from South Africa.”

Saru president Regan Hoskins was reportedly “shocked” by the demand of the five franchises. He told Sport24 that he would send the letter to the other nine unions and it “will be in the hands of all unions to decided which teams will play in the Super Rugby series” next year.

Saru have played themselves into a corner. Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has already said that a lucrative broadcast deal was in place for the next two years and no changes to the current format would be possible.

The union last night denied a report that last week’s letter from the five franchises contained a threat to boycott next year’s competition.

“No threat of a boycott was made,” said Saru CEO Jurie Roux, “but the franchises have made it plain that the only option to them is the expansion of Super Rugby to 16 teams.

“The letter to Saru said the five franchises unanimously decided that none of the existing franchises shall be eliminated from the tournament in 2013 as a result of the inclusion of the Kings.

“Saru, as custodian of the South African leg of the tournament, will ensure that the Kings are included without prejudice to any of the existing franchises, who, in turn, would back Saru in their negotiations with Sanzar to ensure the inclusion of six South African franchises in 2013 onwards.”

The annual meeting of Saru on March 31 will decide on how the Kings will be accommodated.

“This will allow time for further discussions with Sanzar,” said Roux.

• News from the Sharks’ camp is that the satisfaction at Friday night’s 62-0 win over Boland at King’s Park has been tempered by the Bulls’ impressive weekend 39-16 win over the Cheetahs at Loftus.

The Sharks open their Super Rugby campaign in Pretoria on February 24 and the Bulls have shown that they will still be a force without veteran Springboks Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Fourie du Preez.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said that his team’s win over Boland, and a 10-0 try count, had added to his problems in selection.

“But these are the problems we wanted from the players,” Plumtree said. “If we all had to pick a Sharks backline right now, everyone would pick a different one.

“That’s the benefit of all those boys working really hard and you need that depth because players are going to get injured.”

Plumtree had Frederic Michalak rather than Charl McLeod at scrumhalf, Tim Whitehead in for Meyer Bosman at inside centre and Bok wing JP Pietersen alongside him in midfield.

“I was happy with the performance. JP looked good there, but so did most of the other centres.

“It’s one of those tricky ones where we’re going to have to sit down and decide whether we want to keep going with JP at centre. I think putting JP into midfield will give us that X-factor out wide as well, so we’ll see.”

Plumtree said the Super Rugby competition would be close.

“There’s no stand-out South African side. All the teams are going to be competitive in our conference and our derby games will be tough.”

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