The Kings’ liquidation and the Cheetahs’ Pro14 axing illustrates SA Rugby’s disregard for the smaller unions in the heartland, writes RYAN VREDE in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
In the second half of September, South African rugby suffered two setbacks that should have been traumatic because of their significance. Instead it registered a 2.2 on rugby’s Richter Scale.
The liquidation of the Kings, followed by the Cheetahs’ omission from Pro14 rugby meant teams in two of South Africa’s traditionally talent-rich regions have effectively been left for dead.
To underline these regions’ significance, consider that the 2007 World Cup-winning Springbok squad was laden with men who originate from Bloemfontein and its surrounds and/or attended the city’s rugby powerhouse, Grey College. This includes the tournament’s breakout star, Frans Steyn.
The 2019 World Cup winning Springbok squad had a powerful Eastern Cape-born contingent, Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimipi among them. Lest we forget, the captain, Siya Kolisi, hails from rural Eastern Cape as well.
The argument can be made that none of the players in either the triumphant 2007 or 2019 squads rose from the Cheetahs or Kings’ ranks – they were recruited by bigger unions, or sought to further their careers at bigger unions. Fair. But those unions were responsible for their grounding in the game in their formative years.
Without a professional, functioning union, as in the Kings’ case, or with one slowly sliding towards a similar fate, like the Free State is – South African rugby is effectively hoping gifted players from those regions somehow make it through the system and get picked up by one of the big four unions.
Hope is not, and has never been, an effective developmental strategy.
One must guard against absolving the Free State and Eastern Province Rugby Unions from any responsibility for the mess they’ve become. In the case of the latter in particular, incompetent executive leadership has contributed significantly to their demise.
However, SA Rugby has simply not done enough in their oversight capacity to ensure the health and year-on-year development of two regions so rich in rugby talent that has been at the heart of the Springboks’ most significant accomplishments in the last 20 years.
In the Kings’ case, SA Rugby has intimated that the responsibility for their demise lies with the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (GRC), who acquired a 74% shareholding in the franchise in January 2019. This is misleading. Schalk Ferreira, the Kings’ most capped player of all time, summed this up best.
‘It’s been really tough, this is the second time this has happened, and I don’t just believe it’s the GRC who should be held responsible. SA Rugby has also played down responsibility, but I don’t think there was due diligence to see if they [GRC] could run our company and if there was enough finance.’
I remain confident that private ownership is the solution for the franchises’ serious financial and administrative woes. It is SA Rugby’s responsibility to develop a stringent criteria that any prospective private owner/group must meet before being allowed to purchase a controlling share. You can’t let it go to the likes of the GRC then throw your hands up in disgust when they are exposed as snake oil salesmen.
It is important that the significance of these two developments aren’t lost on the South African rugby fraternity and that as the game’s most important stakeholders, we make our voices heard on this matter.
It is a base expectation that the game’s governing body shows us a comprehensive development plan for two of the country’s most rugby-rich regions. Anything less must be seen as gross leadership incompetence and as a failure in their service to the game.
*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!
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