A FEW recent snippets of news relating to professional rugby served to emphasise the stalemate into which South African rugby has got itself over the Southern Kings.
One had tidings that Earl Rose, a lost soul of the game, was training with the Kings in the hope of finding a new home; Kings coach Alan Solomons conceding the “franchise” would have to scout overseas for the calibre of player who could cope with Super Rugby; and an announcement that highly promising Cheetahs prop WP Nel had signed a three-year contract to join Edinburgh.
Stripping the Kings impasse of all the undeniably emotive issues, this was rugby reality. A young man who plies his trade in arguably the key position in the game, tighthead prop, weighs up the money he can earn and takes a chance on his Springbok prospects by going overseas.
Another, Rose, who has been given plenty of chances but who might simply not be big enough for the hurly-burly of the modern game, is thrown a lifeline by a team with few options, while their coach, a man with a pretty impressive CV, is forced to admit that in spite of the Kings’ strongest claim to recognition being their potential to deliver a stream of top black players to SA rugby, he may be forced to scrape the barrel in the hope of picking up some ageing mercenaries.
That’s rugby. Having the personnel to compete. But as it stands, the Kings just do not have the wherewithal.
But they, and before them the Spears, are not just about rugby. The Kings are about transformation, about appeasing an ANC government, many of whose top dogs hail from the region and who might even have played a bit of rugby, about fulfilling an agenda of conscience that was pushed to the forefront in the 1970s when Cheeky Watson, now president of the EPRFU, and his brothers defied the restrictions of apartheid and went to play in the townships.
With excellent schools and a culture of rugby in the region – which stretches from East London to Mossel Bay, taking in King William’s Town, Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth and George – the potential to develop rugby royalty has always been identified but economic truths, geographic isolation, in-fighting and rank bad management have combined to constrain delivery in the realm of the would-be Kings.
What stands out like a sore thumb is that Saru have hopelessly fudged the process; ironically often by bowing to the cosmetic needs of transformation rather than by the implementation of projects and the placement of coaches with the skills, management expertise and ambition to produce outstanding rugby players.
And there were those who could have made a big difference. Former Saru president Silas Nkanunu failed to do much for his home province, while former Minister of Sport Makhenkesi Stofile was all rhetoric and little action.
Saru, for their part, should have moved quickly to form academies in areas where rugby was the first-choice game and alliances with the many fine schools in the region.
Instead of funds being spent on coaches who themselves needed coaching, what was needed was missionaries. They could perhaps be drawn from the ranks of the many excellent teachers who coach rugby, to go in with a long-term goal of producing excellent adult sportsmen.
Perhaps a chance was missed when Jake White vacated the Springbok post. Although he was at loggerheads with his employers White possessed all the attributes of the crusader, teacher, coach, motivator, selector, which were needed.
What now with Peter de Villiers? Having expended a couple of million rands on SA’s first black national coach, could he not be the man to be sent into the region to identify, nurture and produce future Springboks?
Now it seems Saru and the current club of five in Super Rugby will have no choice but to use their financial clout – as evidenced by figures recently revealed that showSouth Africaas clearly the dominant partner in Sanzar – to force through a deal that includes the Kings without prejudicing the others.
In the light of this, you have to ask: which rocket scientists agreed to Saru accepting an equal 33% split withAustraliaandNew Zealand? Just asAustraliamanipulated Super Rugby to suit its purpose, Saru may now simply have to dig in and say: “gentlemen we have no choice but to do this; if not, we might have to seek other opportunities to play in the north.”
Equally, the three partners forming the Kings have to renounce the begging-bowl approach and fulfil their wish to be equal by proving they’re equal.