Side Entry: Kings’ experiment consigned to lost opportunity dump

Simnikiwe Xabanisa.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa.

Johannesburg - If ever there was a textbook example of the expression “too little too late”, it has to be the Southern Kings’ game against Western Force last Sunday.

Looking at the 46-41 final scoreline, it was almost as if the two sides – who knew they would be a step closer to Super Rugby extinction the moment Sanzar announced its plans to cull three teams from the competition after their game – had had a gentleman’s agreement to thumb their noses at the powers that be.

Walk the plank

Apart from the shoddy defence, the match was an absolute ripper, with both sides stretching their legs, and fly half Lionel Cronjé finally showing off the skills he was known for in his school days.

But it was practically the last kick of a dying horse as the two teams are, along with the Cheetahs, favourites to be offloaded from the Super Rugby roster. The Force are trying to sue their way out of trouble, but it is difficult to imagine any team other than the Kings and the Cheetahs walk the plank in South Africa.

Sure, SA Rugby has come up with a criterion for who should be dropped, but one could hardly see the three-time champion Bulls, regardless of their current form; the Lions, who were finalists last year; the in-form Stormers; or the Sharks, who are former finalists, being relegated.

The folks in Bloemfontein might see this as the end of the world, but it isn’t quite as big a death knell as it is for the area represented by the Kings, the Eastern Cape. It is a pity that what was once an inspired idea to give a massive rugby area a meaningful team will forever be consigned to the status of a lost opportunity.

And what a time for them to be dropped – the Kings have been competitive and would actually have won three games by now had they hung tight against the Sharks and in last weekend’s thriller against the Force.

The brand of rugby they play may, at times, be of the exhibition variety, but it’s better than the dross the Bulls give us every week. And whoever had not heard of Makazole Mapimpi, Yaw Penxe, Andisa Ntsila, Tyler Paul and Justin Forwood now knows their names.

Transformed team

To be sure, all the above players and those who have revived their careers in Port Elizabeth will find homes in the remaining four Super Rugby sides, as more players depart for the European club merry-go-round, but it was nice to see a team playing as many homegrown players as the Kings were.

It is ironic that the pending axings come at a time when the unions are open to privatisation. It is a far-fetched example, but what if a Robert Gumede was interested in a return to rugby and chose the Kings – not only to bankroll, but to run the kind of transformed team he could not quite run at the Lions?

But for all of that, the people of the Eastern Cape have to take as much blame for the Kings’ demise as anyone. When the Kings made their debut a few years ago, the occasion was marked by full stadiums, but when the administrators ran the whole thing into the ground, the Kings faithful voted with their feet.

Maybe the lesson for the Eastern Cape is to rebuild by pooling their resources to get a strong enough team to win domestic competitions. Either way, they made a regular dog’s breakfast of the Kings experiment.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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