Cape Town - Former Southern Spears CEO Tony McKeever believes he has a solution for SA Rugby’s Super Rugby predicament.
It was recently announced that the Super Rugby tournament will be reduced from 18 to 15 teams from 2018 onwards.
South Africa will lose two teams and Australia one, the southern hemisphere rugby governing body, SANZAAR, confirmed.
SA Rugby is yet to confirm which two South African teams will be axed, but there have been calls from several pundits for the Cheetahs and Southern Kings to be ditched.
McKeever agrees that the Cheetahs and Kings should be dropped from the tournament, but has proposed the idea of entering the two franchises into Europe’s PRO12 competition - which runs from September to May.
“With the size of the current Currie Cup and Super Rugby squads, both the Cheetahs and EP Rugby could easily accommodate this schedule and start playing in September 2017,” the former Eastern Cape rugby boss said in an exclusive discussion with Sport24.
The PRO12 is an annual competition involving 12 professional sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
McKeever says SA Rugby needs to “accept the news and the fact that two teams are certainly going to be cut and move on, like right now.
“I have already engaged the PRO12 CEO Martin Anayi and proposed he take these two teams and rebrand this as PRO14 and let the Cheetahs and Eastern Province Rugby be a part of this tournament, which starts in September.
“Martin is a visionary and seeks to expand PRO12 into new markets and grow the PRO12 TV audiences and spectators. This is a perfect synergistic way to accomplish that with South African Rugby.”
According to McKeever, the Port Elizabeth team should compete as a new Eastern Province Rugby brand, because “the Kings brand is so tarnished and damaged beyond repair, like Chernobyl, that no sponsor or corporate would ever consider associating themselves with the Kings”.
McKeever continued: “This would rejuvenate the PRO12/14 tournament with excitement. The addition of two South African Super Rugby teams would increase TV viewership in Europe and South Africa and especially on-site spectator audiences coming to Bloemfontein and the (Nelson) Mandela Bay Stadium, to watch their teams play against teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, in this exciting tournament. It would be like the Cheetahs and EP Rugby each hosting six home 'Tests' a year."
'Blow Super Rugby away'
Despite SA Rugby’s association with SANZAAR, an alliance with Europe is allowed, McKeever insists.
“By doing this, SA Rugby would send a potent message to SANZAAR - that they are not agonising over this and are the first of the ‘Big 3’ southern hemisphere teams to break ranks and go north and let that be a message to not mess with us anymore,” he said.
“Personally, I think the PRO14 TV ratings will blow Super Rugby away and you might very well see a reversal of the exodus of players from South Africa and rather to these two South African PRO14 teams.
“It is such an obvious solution to a decade old agonising conundrum that SA Rugby had to deal with and which has ripped the financial heart out of South African rugby.
“As the saying goes, ‘out of disruption, comes innovation’. This is the way of the future of rugby in South Africa and it is fitting that the Cheetahs and EP Rugby should be the pioneers for this evolution of the game, certainly Harold Verster (Cheetahs managing director) and Rory Duncan (Cheetahs director of rugby) think so as well,” McKeever said.
The Southern Spears franchise was formed in 2005 in a unanimous decision by SA Rugby's Presidents Council, to provide the over 500 000 Eastern Cape rugby players a "home" franchise.
It was started with the intention of playing Super Rugby from 2007, but the Spears' entry into the tournament never materialised, as it was always going to be at the elimination of one, or at the most two, of the other five franchises.
"It was summarily stopped by SA Rugby's president at the time, Oregan Hoskins. The bad planning in 2005 then exacerbated into this current financial nightmare for SARU and EP Rugby,” McKeever added.
Following this, the Southern Spears effectively ceased to exist, before the Southern Kings were established in June 2009.