ANALYSIS: Southern Kings again on receiving end of Super Rugby team reduction

BY MARC JACOBSON - APRIL 10, 2017
ANALYSIS: Southern Kings again on receiving end of Super Rugby team reduction

After the ruling made by SANZAAR (Super Rugby’s governing body) on Sunday morning to reduce the tournament from 18 to 15 teams for the 2018 season, it was then stipulated that two teams of which would be South African sides.

The third other was said to be an Australian side, with Western Force likely to get that chop. The Melbourne Rebels are privately owned and regardless of their ‘less impressive’ results, the Australian Rugby Union is reportedly reluctant to get into any legal dispute with the union, leaving the Perth-based Force on the receiving end.

Speculating so, the Southern Kings and Free State Cheetahs are said to be the two SA sides on the chopping blocks, with the Southern Kings deemed ‘unworthy’ due to their cash-strapped status with no official sponsor. Of course, ultimately, their results are also looked down upon, but under the circumstances, one could argue if better can really be expected.

The Cheetahs are deemed the ‘second-least’ financially-able union, with a relatively ‘weak’ support base back in Bloemfontein, while also since 2013 when they qualified for the playoffs, not having produced the goods at Super Rugby level.

The current Super Rugby format has been under much scrutiny with regards to its complex structure, staggered fixture list and a fluctuation of performance value between the ‘weak, average and strong’ teams in the competition. Ultimately, viewership, interest and crowd attendances have dropped drastically since.

The reduction comes as a blessing for the future of the southern hemisphere tournament, but a slap in the faces of South African franchises, who have in retrospect been the best contenders against the supreme New Zealand tournament counterparts.

Highly expectedly, the Southern Kings are at knifes edge, but unfortunately could not help themselves – due to mismanagement and corruption within the EPRU in Watson’s tenure, the province fell to a downward spiral.

Today they are bankrupt with just three years to show for their building phase in Super Rugby. The Southern Kings in 2017 are taking part in their third Super Rugby campaign after entering their first in 2013.

As a result, they competitively but unsurprisingly ended last of the pool of SA teams and then played home and away promotion/relegation matches against the Lions after the 2013 season for Super Rugby 2014 qualification.

Ironically losing at home, but winning away, the points’ differential for the promotion/relegation was just two in favour of the Lions – a mere conversion difference. Newly entering the Super Rugby in 2014 after their year break, the Lions were able to regroup, build and reform – and as a result of primordial supervision, are today South Africa’s powerhouse in Super Rugby.

If the Southern Kings got the same taking and bearing for growing and development within the franchise, who knows where the Eastern Cape franchise can be today. After all, the union, as well as the Cheetahs, continue to breed ample senior talent and blood many youngsters with high-class schools in both provinces.

Most of the squad members departed from the Southern Kings since 2013 due to their relegation from Super Rugby, meaning the ever-more cash-strapped union in the following years leading up to 2016’s season, had to completely start at square one and rebuild an entire squad.

In a never-ending cycle, the Kings once again for the 2018 season are set to be cut, again. Again a retract in the province, with now the EP Kings playing the only footprint in EP rugby, and in so, not even in the Currie Cup Premier Division, but the beleaguered First Division.

If the Southern Kings will no longer be an entity, how will local talent revitalise their futures in the province if money talks on all other spheres of South Africa or overseas?

Having a lack thereof to what the ‘fortunate’ Lions had obtained back in 2013, was the scape they received to rebuild and refurbish their entire entity.

Lending over like the boy who cried wolf, the Southern Kings have on more than one occasion been made to believe that progress and professionalism has ensued within the province, but have later seen to be struck down and thrown to the curb.

Arguably so, SARU can be to blame for not giving these issues some oversight in rendering possibilities in the Eastern Cape, such that has been given to the other SA powerhouses, who have received more than 20 years of guardianship.

Getting to the other point of the reduction and on performance value alone, an extra team should rather be culled from Australia instead, especially seeing that in the current 2017 fold, the Brumbies are the only performing Aussie side of a really poor bunch.  

The Sunwolves too are heavy underperformers, one of their losses also being at home to the Southern Kings, and while SANZAAR aims to expand the game more to East Asia, their competitiveness has been dour to the legacy of Super Rugby.

The Sunwolves could perhaps rather join a system of rugby development with clubs from the Pacific nations and perhaps USA and Canada, where rugby could all evolve more – all helping each other in a win/win cause.

Japan as is, are not on the competitive scale with the likes of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina and as a result are not involved in the Rugby Championship, so why is their representing franchise involved with the aforementioned countries’ in Super Rugby?

The reduction comes as a slap in the face to both South Africa as a proud rugby breeding ground and the Southern Kings, for being part of that breeding ground but always being treated as the runt of the litter - with betrayal a common foreground.

Image: The two sides favourited to get the axe: Southern Kings in action against Western Force on Sunday, losing narrowly 46-41