Embattled Eastern Cape franchise, the Southern Kings, are courting former Worcester and Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan and offered to pay him more than R2 million per year despite running into financial trouble in April.
Last week the Kings needed a R6 million bail-out from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro in order to pay staff and player salaries, which came in 10 days are the scheduled payment date.
Three high-placed officials inside the organisation confirmed that Kings board chairman Loyiso Dotwana has been working covertly to lure Duncan to Port Elizabeth to fill the head coach position vacated by Deon Davids last year.
The Kings bungled the appointment of a new head coach last year after appointing a panel to interview and short-list potential candidates but promptly undermined them by submitting a pre-approved list of candidates.
Duncan, Peter de Villiers, Corniel van Zyl and Steve Jackson were short-listed but many believe the entire exercise was a ruse and that Duncan was earmarked for the role in the first place. Director of rugby Robbi Kempson held the reins during a calamitous PRO14 campaign where the franchise won one game before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
The two equity partners - the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (GRC) and the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) - have been at loggerheads since SA Rugby ratified their partnership last year.
Minority shareholder, EPRU, accused GRC board members of making unilateral decisions such as coaching appointments and player recruitment without their knowledge. The pursuit of Duncan is another episode that’s raise EPRU officials’ ire.
"They gave Rory Duncan an offer worth more than R2 million without EP’s knowledge," an official said.
"EP were kept in the dark about their interview with Rory on the side and they were making a deal with him after they froze the appointment last year. The shareholders are clueless about such things but Loyiso went ahead and did all of that behind everyone’s backs.
"How is that not reckless trading? They do not have cashflow, they can’t pay people now and their salary bill is way too high. Some administrative staff members and coaches that were recruited, their apartments are paid for by the Kings.
"It might be part of trying to attract someone with a package but it’s so irresponsible. When the Kings couldn’t pay salaries those (accommodation) service providers weren’t paid as well."
An administrator close to the board said they’d be surprised if the Kings still had players at the end of the lockdown. It’s understood that the 10-day delay in salary payment spooked a number of players who then contacted their agents to help them take advantage SA Rugby's 21-day "opt-out" period to get offers elsewhere.
The Kings could lose star players JC Astle, Yaw Penxe, Howard Mnisi and Bobby de Wee as a result of the financial uncertainty surrounding the union and the projected 45% pay cuts set to affect players in South Africa.
The Kings were scheduled to hold a shareholders meeting on Tuesday, where issues of cashflow and late salary payments were to be discussed, but the meeting was postponed due the government enforced lockdown.
"Given the current climate around the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations, the Kings board had timeously put it to the EPRU that in order for the meeting to take place at the EPRU offices - where potentially, more than 10 individuals would meet - a government-issued permit would be required if an organisation is not an essential service," said chairman Dotwana in a statement.
"We further also suggested that perhaps the meeting rather take place via video conference, but the Eastern Province Rugby Union turned down the suggestions, insisting on an in-person meeting, which was impossible during this period without the necessary permit.
"We would not want to be part of a legally non-complaint gathering."
EPRU president Andre Rademan responded strongly to Dotwana’s suggestions that EPRU were prepared to flout lockdown regulations in order to hold the emergency meeting.
"We are concerned about the welfare of the players and the staff," said Rademan.
"It is obvious that there’s a cashflow problem and we want to address it. We want to see a business plan, their financials and a cashflow statement. We want to know what’s the road forward.
"We arranged for sanitisers, gloves, masks and arranged for social distancing measures for the meeting.
"This morning they started saying we haven’t got a permit and we sat waiting for them [for an alternative plan]. They then asked for a video conference, which we hadn’t prepared for, and then they pulled out. While we were waiting, they sent out the press release. They pre-empted this.
"We were complying with the social-distancing measures that have been put in place. We are speaking about people’s lives here and if it blows up, the union will be blamed for this."