A statement released by Saru on Thursday said “the top four teams in the South African Conference in 2012 (Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Cheetahs) will join the Southern Kings in the 2013 tournament. The teams were confirmed after the general meeting accepted a proposal first tabled by the executive council in January. The proposal was that the franchise occupying the lowest log position of the five franchises at the end of 2012 would be relegated.”
Saru also confirmed, however, that the Kings, based in the Eastern Cape, would only be guaranteed one year in the competition that also includes New Zealand and Australian franchises, with the Lions playing a two-legged promotion/relegation match against the team that finishes last in the South African Conference in 2013.
None of the teams that will comprise the Southern Kings franchise – Eastern Province, South-Western Districts and Border – play in the domestic Currie Cup Premier Division, and neither have they managed to win the same tournament’s B Division in recent years.
But Saru president Oregan Hoskins defended the general council’s decision, saying that the sheer quantities of players produced in the Eastern Cape region meant they deserved to play at an elite level.
“All rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Super Rugby competition,” Hoskins said in the statement. “That decision was first taken in 2005 but their inclusion has twice been postponed.
“We made a commitment to the Kings to include them in 2013 and rugby has delivered on that commitment. The franchise represents more clubs than any other region – apart from the Stormers – and contains numerous leading rugby schools. It has been starved of top-class rugby competition for a decade-and-a-half and now it has the chance to show what it can do.”
Saru CEO Jurie Roux claimed that the bulk of South Africa’s SuperRugby players also supported the move.
“The provinces asked for a rugby solution and we believe that this was the fairest and most transparent method to respond to what is undoubtedly a less-than-ideal situation,” Roux said. “We also canvassed SuperRugby players before the start of the season, through the Players’ Association, and this was their preferred mechanism.
“The decision to apply a promotion and relegation system from 2013 is standard practice in sport. We operate promotion and relegation in all our Currie Cup competitions, with the bottom-placed team being relegated unless it wins a play-off. Our strategic goal is to have six strong franchises covering the whole of South Africa and this decision keeps all of them in play on an annual basis,” said Roux.
The Lions, who are already in financial difficulty after falling out with their equity partners last year, now face an uncertain future but have said the majority of their squad are on long-term contracts.
The general council, made up of South Africa’s 14 provinces spread between the two Currie Cup divisions, rejected a suggestion that the Kings delay their introduction into SuperRugby until 2016, when a new broadcast contract is in place, in return for a financial boost and the guarantee of more than one year’s participation.
The Saru statement made no mention of any financial support being given to the Lions, who are a 123-year-old union based in South Africa’s largest city but now face massive financial losses due to their exclusion from SuperRugby.
Lions president Kevin de Klerk said the Kings had been gifted SuperRugby participation without earning their place.
“We are extremely disappointed at this result. This is a very unfortunate decision which will result in a team taking part in a competition without needing to qualify on rugby merits,” De Klerk said.
The Lions won just three of their 16 SuperRugby matches this year, and have won just 12 of their last 71 games in the competition.