Can SARU save the Lions?
The South African Rugby Union, despite their best intentions, appear to be no closer to a resolution of the Southern Kings Super Rugby saga.
Representatives of the five current franchises - Lions, Bulls, Cheetahs, Sharks and Stormers - met members of the SARU Executive Committee for discussions on the proposal that the Southern Kings play in the Super Rugby competition next year.
The SARU Exco proposed that only the top four teams in the South African conference at the end of the 2012 competition join the Kings as the South African representatives in the 2013 competition.
However, the existing franchises have been unhappy that one of them - at this stage the bottom-placed Lions - should make way for the Kings and have been involved in protracted discussions with SARU officials - going back to February.
They met again in Johannesburg on Thursday and in a statement afterwards it was revealed that a further meeting between the franchises and SARU will take place on Monday (May 21).
"Everyone agreed that we must secure a solution that does not damage any of the existing franchises," said Jurie Roux, CEO of SARU.
"It is a complex issue with no easy answers and we are determined to leave no stone unturned in finding that answer.
"A number of options were discussed, but there is currently no preferred alternative to the recommendation put to the General Council [back in January]."
Roux re-iterated that the decision on Super Rugby participation rests with the SARU General Council.
In a recent letter to SARU the existing franchises made it clear that they stand united and none of them should be excluded in 2013.
According to the franchises' letter they "unanimously" decided that it is imperative:
* That the inclusion of the Kings will benefit South African rugby in general;
* That none of the existing franchises shall be prejudiced by the Kings' inclusion in any way whatsoever;
* That none of the existing franchises shall be eliminated from the tournament in 2013 or at any stage thereafter as a result of the inclusion of the Kings;
* That SARU as custodian of the South African leg of the tournament will ensure that the Kings are included without prejudice to any of the existing franchises.
Events as they have unfolded in 2012:
January 27: A Special General Meeting was held to consider Vodacom Super Rugby participation (among other things).
* The SARU Executive Council (Exco) proposed that the top four teams in the South African conference at the end of the 2012 competition join the Southern Kings as the South African representatives in the 2013 competition.
* It was also proposed that the last-placed team in the South African Conference would play a promotion/relegation match against the non-Super Rugby franchise at the conclusion of the 2013 and 2014 competitions.
* The meeting reaffirmed the Kings' participation in the 2013 tournament.
* The franchises requested that a decision on the mechanism of qualification was postponed to allow them time to make alternative proposals.
* The General Meeting accepted the request. Jurie Roux, SARU CEO, asked for it to be recorded that the delay in a decision was at the franchises' request, therefore precluding them (unions) from criticism of delays in any decisions.
February 23: Franchise representatives and members of the Exco met for a second time to discuss the way forward.
* It was decided that franchises representatives would accompany SARU's SANZAR delegates (Roux and deputy president Mark Alexander) to meet SANZAR partners with proposals to encompass the inclusion of a sixth South African franchise. The group was scheduled to depart on March 17.
March 14: A final preparation meeting was held between franchise representatives and SARU's SANZAR delegates.
* The meeting requested SARU to write to Australia and New Zealand requesting a postponement in the visit in order to prepare additional expansion options.
* No date has been rescheduled.
May 17: Franchise representatives and members of Exco will met in Johannesburg for further discussions. It resolved that a further meeting of franchises of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to discuss participation in the Super Rugby competition will take place on Monday, May 21.
The next scheduled General Council meeting takes place on July 13.