Simon Borchardt

Saru should be ashamed


SIMON BORCHARDT says Saru's lack of support for the Kings in their debut Super Rugby season is a disgrace.

On Tuesday, Saru sent out a press release saying it would appoint a judicial sub-committee to investigate allegations that the Kings had breached Saru's Super Rugby participation agreement by fielding more than two foreigners against the Chiefs last Friday night.

I'm not sure why the word 'allegations' was used, because no one is denying it happened. Kiwi midfielder Hadleigh Parkes started for the Kings (and was replaced in the 72nd minute), while Argentine loose forward Tomás Leonardi (23rd to 32nd minute and 58th minute onwards) and Argentine scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo (79th minute) came off the bench. Three foreigners were used, but only two were on the field at once.

Saru neglected to mention this in its press release, and it also didn't mention why three foreigners had been included in the Kings 22. During their warm-up just before kick-off, Darron Nell, the Kings stand-in captain in the absence of the injured Luke Watson, felt a stiffness in his calf and the decision was made not to risk him. David Bullbring then started at No 5 with Leonardi coming on to the bench.

The late selection changes were made to give the Kings the best possible chance of doing well against the Super Rugby champions, and they did, coming within eight points of them in the second half when many were saying they'd get beaten by 50.

Yet instead of congratulating the Kings on another good performance at home, Saru has threatened them with sanctions for fielding three foreigners, which include a caution, a fine that could reach R1-million, and suspension or expulsion from Super Rugby.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised at the total lack of support from Saru on this matter seeing as not one Saru official bothered to attend the Kings' historic opening match against the Force in PE. Right from the beginning, Saru has seen the Kings (and the Spears before them) as an irritating problem that just wouldn't go away and not as a wonderful opportunity to grow the game in South Africa by investing in the Eastern Cape region.

If Saru had really wanted the Kings to do well this year, it would have allowed them to pick more than two foreigners. When the Rebels entered Super Rugby in 2011, they were allowed to select as many as 10 foreigners, because the Australian Rugby Union wanted them to be competitive in their first season.

The anti-Kings brigade will no doubt be asking why the Kings need to play more than two foreigners. Where is all the homegrown talent that Cheeky Watson and co have been telling us about for years?

Sigh ...

The Kings have not been able to retain this talent – black and white – because they haven't had a Super Rugby franchise until now. The only reason teenage wing Sergeal Petersen didn't leave PE at the end of last year is because he knew he could play Super Rugby for the Kings. How many other local players will make the same decision at the end of this year, if the Kings do win the promotion-relegation play-off against the Lions? There is also a lot of talent coming through the Kings junior system but it's only going to reach Super Rugby level in two or three years time.

Then there's the fact that the Kings were unable to bring back players produced in the region, because their Super Rugby inclusion was only confirmed in August last year. By that time, the vast majority of South Africans – within the country and overseas – were locked into contracts with other provincial unions or clubs.

It's for the above reasons that the Kings should have been allowed to field more than two foreigners in Super Rugby, and Saru should be ashamed for not doing more to make this happen.

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