Kiwi recipe not a 'one-size-fits-all' design

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:27
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SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Jan de Koning takes a look at a proposed change to the South African landscape and what the 2017 Super Rugby season may produce.

As we rise from our festive season slumber, there are a number of posers that are in dire need of addressing.

In this article I am going to focus on one major suggestion - that South African Super Rugby teams should employ a draft system to level the playing field.

When new South African Rugby Union President Mark Alexander revealed - in December - that this concept was on the table, he made it clear in would be based on the New Zealand model.

Alexander suggested that a player could go "on loan" to a franchise for a year or two and return to his original franchise afterwards.

"We need to find mechanisms of collaborating better," the SARU boss said, adding: "If we want to beat the All Blacks, we need to collaborate as a [unified] structure.

"New Zealand's franchises collaborate all the time, and with the national coach."

On the face of it, it seemed a good idea.

However, having had some time to think about (yes, some journalists do sometimes think) and deconstruct the motion, I realised that SARU's 'version' has one fatal flaw.

New Zealand's 'collaboration plan' works because they are a stable union run on sound principles that foster financially stable franchises.

The South African landscape is neither sound, nor financially stable.

We enter 2017 with the Southern Kings still having to be managed by SARU, because of the bankruptcy of the holding company (EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd).

Who in their right mind will go 'on loan' to a team for eight months, knowing that once Super Rugby is over there is no payment - effectively meaning you will out of a job after the season is completed. This is because the SARU deal lasts only for the duration of the build-up to and duration of the season.

The Kings are not the only franchise in financial trouble.

We all know Western Province (Pty) Ltd was declared bankrupt late last year - which affects the Stormers. Even though it was a duplicitous financial move (not real bankruptcy) and SARU have not yet been called upon to save the day in Cape Town, there is certainly enough doubt about the players' future and the stability of the union/franchise going forward.

Throw in the fact that there are murmurs of financial 'difficulty' at the Bulls and Sharks, and it becomes clear that South African landscape is everything but stable and financially sound.

As it is, SARU will make a 'small' loss for 2016 and sponsors are not exactly lining up for 2017.

Alexander dismissed the notion that they are technically insolvent and scoffed at the size of the loss some media outlets suggested it was.

"Yes, we had a significant decline in revenue," was his candid response.

"We were able to salvage that through some serious cost cutting.

"There is a risk element in revenue for next year [2017]," he admitted.

This is not a problem that is going to go away soon. It will take some time for SARU - and those financially unstable franchises - to become 'stable' and until such a state is achieved in South Africa, no amount of player drafting will help the affected teams.

Given that the financial outlook is bleak, to put it mildly, I feel South African teams are in for another rough ride.

In the Africa One Conference, the Bulls and Cheetahs appear to have the best prospects. They are the teams with the most stability to cope with having to play the New Zealand teams this year. The Stormers, with all their boardroom shenanigans, will rely on a few domestic wins for their points.

In the Africa Two Conference, the Lions and Sharks look your best bet for play-off contenders, while the Kings will remain cannon fodder. The uncertainty for them is the quality of the Australian teams and the lack of a proper off-season most of the Lions' key players will face.

My top eight (keeping in mind the cockamamy conference system):
1 Chiefs
2 Lions
3 Cheetahs
4 Waratahs
5 Hurricanes
6 Crusaders
7 Highlanders
8 Bulls

By Jan de Koning
@king365ed
@rugby365com

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