A case for the Kings
The breakdown in talks over the allocation of the 15th spot for the planned expansion of the Super 14 once again brings the question of the Southern Kings to the fore.
Back in 2005, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) attempted to gain the support of the government for their 2011 Rugby World Cup bid by putting forth the idea of a Super rugby franchise in the Eastern Cape, long considered a breeding ground for exceptional rugby talent. It was envisioned that the franchise, with financial backing from Saru, would prepare for the Super 14 by playing Currie Cup rugby in 2006, and then take part in the Super 14 in 2007 and 2008 at the expense of the worst-performing South African team.
This agreement would then have seen the South African team finishing last in the 2008 Super 14 season competing in a play-off against the sixth South African region. The existing five regions, to protect the cash bonanza that is the Super 14, threatened legal action and Saru withdrew its support for the Eastern Cape franchise, effectively killing it off.
Fast forward a couple of years and, with another World Cup bid in the offing, Saru re-established the sixth franchise, this time under the Southern Kings moniker.
The case for the region to have a Super Rugby franchise is a good one.
The area has a vast support base, an excellent stadium just crying out to be used for top-flight sport, a strong culture of rugby throughout the region, and a virtual conveyor belt for rugby talent in a number of schools renowned for sporting prowess.
On the technical side, the Kings already have key personnel with Super Rugby experience in place, with Alan Solomons, the former Stormers coach, as director of rugby. And if reports are to be believed, they have already identified players with top-level experience who are willing to sign up with the fledgling franchise, should they be guaranteed Super Rugby participation.
But with Australian and South African officials failing to reach an agreement on the allocation of the 15th Super Rugby spot, it is becoming more and more unlikely that the Eastern Cape will be represented in the competition come 2011.
So what is to happen with the Kings?
The suits at Saru will have to find a way to accommodate the Southern Kings in the Super Rugby, either as an out-and-out replacement for the worst-performing South African team—the Lions spring to mind—or go with the relegation play-off format, where the worst-performing South African team vies with the sixth franchise for a spot in the lucrative competition.
If not, they will have to be hauled over the coals by Parliament.