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Ken Borland

SA Rugby had to listen to stakeholders’ bark or face the bite – Roux 0

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Ken


According to Saru CEO Jurie Roux, South African rugby had to listen to the bark coming from broadcasters and all other stakeholders in the game and cut the number of SuperRugby franchises or face the bite of economic hardship and potential disaster further down the road.

Roux was speaking on Monday at the launch of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, the new tournament that will slot in at the level below SuperRugby, following Sanzaar’s announcement at the weekend that South Africa will only be able to field four teams from next year.

“Our stakeholders – sponsors, fans, broadcasters and media – have been speaking very clearly about the lack of integrity in the competition because not everyone plays everyone else, and the confusing format of SuperRugby. Broadcasters wanted change to come immediately otherwise they warned us we were going to run into contracting issues.

“And the economic reality is that we cannot sustain six franchises, we can survive with five but then we’d have to sacrifice other things, and neither can we sustain it from the player point of view either. So it’s high time that tough decisions were made for the good of South African rugby, that’s what the staff are paid for and the office bearers are elected for.

“Ultimately it’s a numbers decision, the numbers of spectators and viewers are in decline and there’s obviously an issue with what stadiums are providing as well. Plus half our franchises lose more matches than they win, so they’re not providing quality competition,” Roux said at the Bill Jardine Stadium on Monday.

The CEO said politics and emotion had governed the previous decision to expand to six franchises, but he hopes the newly formed franchise committee, and the Saru general council that will ultimately consider their proposal, lays those factors aside when they consider which two franchises should be cut from Super Rugby.

“The ultimate competition was probably Super 12, but there was some selfishness, some mandates from country’s high-performance units and a lot of revenue and political factors that led to the expansion. The reality is that there will always be some politics involved, but emotions are tougher to manage and I’m sad to say a lot of rugby decisions have been based on them.

“My plea to the franchise committee is to make a swift recommendation, not based on politics or emotion, so that nobody can accuse us of stalling. I will push as hard as I can to have this decision made as quickly as possible, at most within a month’s time,” Roux said.

The CEO suggested another four professional franchises could play as a group in other overseas tournaments, while adding that the 14 provincial unions had to continue as semi-professional entities looking after the broad base of the South African rugby pyramid – the amateur and school teams.

SA rugby’s archaic structure marring the game 0

Posted on September 09, 2012 by Ken

Suspended Cricket South Africa CEO Gerald Majola may or may not have committed a crime when he marred that sport’s reputation so badly, but in a way the whole bonus scandal did the game a favour; it has ensured a revamp of its administrative structure, belatedly dragging it into the professional era.

Cricket South Africa have announced they intend to restructure their board to comprise five independent directors and five drawn from their Members Forum (the 11 provinces), which had me thinking the pressure is now firmly on the South African Rugby Union to do the same.

The whole shameful handling of the Southern Kings vs. Lions Super Rugby situation is a direct consequence of the archaic structure of South African rugby. The General Council, comprising representatives of the 14 provinces (CSA don’t include Northern Free State, Mpumalanga and South-Western districts), watches over the game in this country and they had the final say when it came to next year’s participation in the Sanzar tournament.

But many of these 14 gentlemen are tin-pot dictators and, almost without exception, they all concentrate on the individual interests of their province rather than the broader good of South African rugby. And then there is the anomaly that the smaller unions (those in the Currie Cup First Division) have the same power as Western Province or the Sharks and consequently have been known to sell their loyalty/vote to the highest bidder.

Lions President Kevin de Klerk inherited a union that was in an absolute mess and on the verge of bankruptcy. De Klerk, the former Springbok lock, is a thoroughly decent man but his battle to keep the Lions in Super Rugby was doomed to fail because he based it on good old amateur rugby principles of “fair play”, “what’s good for the game” and a handshake being a firm agreement.

His problem was that the other unions – even those that had pledged their support – were only ever going to look after themselves. De Klerk had hinted at the five Super Rugby unions banding together to save the Lions, but in the end the Gautengers have been banished.

They’re singing a sad old song at Ellis Park these days, but their own naivety and desperately poor results have been partly to blame. They now find themselves in the mud at the bottom of the pond but, just like the Natal Rugby Union did in the 1980s when they were relegated to the Currie Cup B Section. The Lions have to find a way to rise like a Lotus flower and restore their reputation as one of the finest teams in the country.

And what of the Kings’ chances in Super Rugby?

Cheeky Watson, the president of the Eastern Province Rugby Union (Epru), admits that there is still plenty to do.

“The important thing for us is to deliver a professional team that attracts attention, which we have succeeded in doing, and now it’s time to build the foundational structures: our academy, a working relationship with the (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan) university, and to put structures in place at the bottom.

“With 120 clubs spread all across the region and wonderful schools, this is a sustainable franchise. A lot of building still has to be done, but that cannot negate the fact that the foundation is unbelievably strong. It’s just to get the two to meet: the professional team and the foundational structures,” Watson told SA Sports Illustrated.

Much has been made of the Southern Kings’ transformation credentials, that they will provide a lot of black rugby players to the national cause.

But scratching beneath the surface, transformation does not seem to have been a roaring success in the Eastern Cape either.

Ithembelihle High School in New Brighton Township is probably the most successful black schoolboy rugby team in the country. But despite beating the likes of Framesby, Newton, Despatch, Muir College and Daniel Pienaar Technical High, and proving themselves to be competitive in the Grey High Easter Festival, Ithembelihle complain that Port Elizabeth’s white schools no longer want to play against them and that they have received precious little support from the Epru.

One look at their facilities seems to prove the point. Sports Illustrated reported they did not have a scrum machine and that their field resembled “a stony sandpit in summer, a lake in winter and a subtropical grassland in between”.

And why is this river of black talent not flowing into their provincial teams?

Last weekend, the EP Kings fielded just three Black Africans – Mpho Mbiyozo, Jongi Nokwe and Siyanda Grey – in their 22-man squad for the match against the Valke.

The Border Bulldogs were marginally better with four, while the combined figures for the two teams at U19 (8/44) and U21 (10/44) level suggest the Kings need to concentrate on transformation as much as anyone else.

Of course, the big five unions have relied on Eastern Cape talent, especially to boost their player-of-colour numbers, for many years. But they clearly figured out that if they turned their back on the Lions, another source of players, with more top-level experience, would suddenly become available.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies has been on a mini-tour of the country in recent days to check out where he should sign on the dotted line and the likes of Pat Cilliers, Franco van der Merwe, Jaco Taute, JC Janse van Rensburg and Derick Minnie will surely soon be on their way too.

And, in a competition where the local derbies have been notoriously tough, who is more likely to beat the Bulls – the Lions or the Southern Kings?

I know who my money would be on.

Lions relegated from SuperRugby 0

Posted on August 16, 2012 by Ken

The Lions were relegated from SuperRugby on Thursday by the South African Rugby Union (Saru) General Council following the Johannesburg-based team’s last-placed finish in this year’s competition.

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.

Matfield comeback stopped by IRB law 0

Posted on May 28, 2012 by Ken

The International Rugby Board’s anti-doping regulations have put paid to the potential comeback of former Springbok captain Victor Matfield, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) admitted on Thursday.
New Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was considering Matfield, a veteran of 110 tests and the driving force behind their powerful lineout, for the three-test series against England next month, despite the 35-year-old announcing his retirement after last year’s World Cup.
With the series happening in the middle of the SuperRugby season, Meyer has little chance to work with his team, which will feature several new faces following the retirement of long-time captain John Smit, injuries to flanks Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, and the migration of stalwarts such as scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, centre Jaque Fourie, utility forward Danie Rossouw and prop Gurthro Steenkamp to overseas clubs.
Meyer is also facing a dilemma over who to appoint as captain because the frontrunner, Burger, has been ruled out of the England series due to a knee injury. The former Bulls coach previously hinted that Matfield could return to steer the team through the transitional period.
But an IRB rule stating that a player who has announced his retirement may not play international rugby for six months after his comeback has ruled out Matfield’s return.
The regulation is used by the IRB to prevent players who have used banned substances from suddenly retiring and then returning to the game once the drug is out of their system.
“We have discussed the option, but the International Rugby Board’s regulations counted against us,” Saru chief executive Jurie Roux told Reuters on Thursday.
“We would be keen to use Victor’s outstanding knowledge and have not ruled out the option of using it in some other way in the future.”
Matfield is acknowledged as the foremost student of lineout play in the game and is currently employed as an analyst by broadcasters SuperSport.
“I did want to play an experienced side, but a lot of players are not available,” Meyer said on a BBC radio interview this week. “There’s a big concern about the lack of time we have to train together. That’s why it’s difficult to pick a side because there will be injuries after those derbies. It’s not an ideal situation but you can’t make excuses,” he said.

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