No winners in Super compromise
Thu, 16 Aug 2012 16:03
Under the circumstances I think it is the best that we can do
The compromise involving the Kings' inclusion in Super Rugby next year is likely to be "at the expense" of not one, but two franchises.
The famous pledge that SARU offered to Parliament was that the eventual resolution of the issue "would not be at the expense of any franchise", a claim which was proven to be quite hollow with the decision to relegate the Lions and give the Kings just one season to establish themselves in the competition.
Having guaranteed the Kings a place in Super Rugby in 2013 last year, SARU and the provincial rugby unions were faced with the conundrum of fitting six franchises into the five available positions in the South African conference, with the format locked until the present SANZAR agreement runs out in 2015.
The matter was postponed at the request of the unions in January, and with time running short they were forced to reach an uncomfortable solution on Thursday which could end up costing both the Lions and the Kings.
SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said that the promotion/relegation model was the best they could offer seeing as all other possibilities have been explored and ultimately rejected.
"The solution that we have at the moment in a sense keeps all six franchises in play as there is promotion/relegation next year, whichever team finishes last in the conference will play the Lions.
"Obviously it is not great for the franchise that is not in Super Rugby next year, but that being the case I think we have exhausted all avenues, we have tried our best to accomodate all six franchises and unluckily for the Lions franchise they were the team to fall out," he said.
This means that the Lions have been 'included' by being granted the right to fight their way back into the competition through a play-off, whilst the Kings will have to do what no other new franchise has done and avoid coming last in their conference in their debut season.
The reality is that both sides will suffer significantly as the Lions will be in the wilderness without much scope to attract quality players to win promotion and the Kings will have just one season to establish themselves before facing more uncertainty over their prospects in the long-term.
Chairman Oregan Hoskins explained that as all six franchises will continue to get financial support, SARU are happy that they have stayed true to their promise that the resolution would not be at the expense of any franchise.
"What we were referring to was that the team that fell out would be assisted by South African rugby. The extent to which that will happen we obviously still have to look at in conjunction with that franchise," he said.
Roux added that the funding scheme that is currently in place will remain, which effectively fulfills the obligation of that ambigous statement made to parliament.
"We have got an agreed-upon funding model that was decided in 2009 that includes all six franchises and that model runs up until 2015, any additional funding to that, no decision has been taken.
"When we made that statement in parliament and subsequent to that nobody ever asked us what was going to be the 'at no expense', nobody asked us for clarification on that and that is what it was - we need to look at that franchise and we need to look at opportunities for that franchise where we can assist them in keeping their franchise running and being able to compete should they win promotion next year," he said.
Roux explained that after exploring all of the options available, the promotion/relegation model was the fairest solution that they could come up with given the time restraints.
"The amount of work that went into trying to get competitions in Europe, trying to get additional competitions, trying to get new structures in place, it was continous over the last six months.
"We can't postpone this anymore, we had to come to a decision but that doesn't leave us in a position where we can't still get some form of competition for the team that falls out," he said.
The SARU boss said that although he expects the matter to be contested by both sides, he does not see how the situation is harsh on the Kings who will have to hit the ground running, without many guarantess for their long-term future.
"I am sure there will be a lot of debate and I am sure there will be a lot of proposals coming back to the general council.
"Being annoyed with only being allowed into Super Rugby for one year, if you want to play at the highest level you have got to prove yourself at the highest level," he said.
Hoskins acknowledged that the situation is not ideal, but was adamant that SARU have done everything in their power to serve the best interests of South African rugby.
"The reality is that we can only have five franchises in Super Rugby and under the circumstances I think it is the best that we can do," he said.
This compromise leaves both the Lions and the Kings feeling cheated and with something of a mountain to climb, and despite SARU's claims that the fairest possible outcome was reached it is difficult to see how either the Lions and the Kings will be able to pull themselves up to the standard of a competitive Super Rugby side in the years to come.
By Michael de Vries
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