Bedford: Cheetahs treated as if ‘dispensable’

Former Springbok No 8 Tommy Bedford says SA Rugby’s decision to kick the Cheetahs out of the PRO14 competition is against the spirit of rugby.

SA Rugby last month confirmed the existing four Super Rugby franchises are in line to transition to an expanded PRO Rugby competition.

The decision was taken by the 13 voting member unions of the South African Rugby Union at a special general meeting to determine international participation and competition formats in a Covid-19-impacted rugby environment.

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The four teams voted to potentially transition were the existing Vodacom Super Rugby franchises – the Vodacom Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

However, this would come at the expense of the Cheetahs and Kings, who have both been involved in the PRO14 since its expansion from 12 teams in 2017.

Bedford, who played 25 times for the Springboks between 1963 and 1971, captaining the team on three occasions, has argued against the decision.

‘There is no reason why the hard-fought struggle to make rugby a fair game for all South Africans to participate in – whether playing or watching – should now be skewed by those running the professional game,’ Bedford wrote. ‘What they are doing now is not for the greater good of the game for all South Africans but is geared entirely for the benefit of the privileged few …

‘Saru officialdom would, of course, disagree, seeing nothing wrong with the Lions, Sharks, Bulls and Stormers having been discarded by the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby and muscling in on the northern hemisphere’s PRO14 at the expense of the Cheetahs, with the Kings already consigned to the dustbin.

‘They do this without thinking for a moment that this is morally wrong and as low as you can go, with backstabbing par for the course. In terms of rugby camaraderie, as it once used to be before money and professionalism became more important than the game itself, the people responsible for this have sold off our game for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver.’

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Bedford argues that a better solution would be to allow the Cheetahs to keep their place in the tournament and have the four Super Rugby franchises play against each other for the three remaining spots in the PRO16.

‘In 2017 the Free State Cheetahs and EP Kings were unceremoniously kicked out of Super Rugby as the competition had become too big and too unbalanced once Argentina was included.

‘So the two teams found a niche in the PRO14 and carved a trail there on their own, although this was never considered equivalent to the Super Rugby.

‘While the Kings struggled, the Cheetahs did their stuff.  So now, how can the other four South African franchises no longer wanted by New Zealand and Australia in the economically strapped coronavirus times simply be allowed by Saru to waltz into the PRO14 at the expense of the Cheetahs, as if the Cheetahs are, once again, dispensable.

‘This is as crooked as the behaviour of some of those “great and good” South Africans who are even now appearing before the Zondo Commission.  Surely, in the interest of honesty and decency, the logical thing to do would be a) to let the Lions, Sharks, Stormers and Bulls play off against one another with the top 3 joining the Cheetahs in the PRO16, or b) let all five teams play off against one another at home and away and the winning four join the PRO16.  This will ensure honest rugby, not crooked money.

‘I write as a born and bred Free Stater, from a family of Free Staters who helped found the province. I come from Dealesville and with my dad watched Free State play at Springbok Park in Bloemfontein many years ago before I myself played at Free State Stadium.

‘I was present too on the day the disparate presidents of black, brown and white South African rugby unions agreed to form one union for the benefit of ALL South Africans, not just the select and favoured few.

‘Favouring the four franchises in the way Saru has steamrolled matters, is as wicked as it is that Bloemfontein has not been given a fixture against the British & Irish Lions next year, while three matches, including two internationals, are being held within a couple of weeks within a 40km radius.

‘This again illustrates how little this has to do with the spirit of the game of rugby – but everything to do with money. If those running SA rugby had any balls they would do the right thing for the good, not for more of the bad and the ugly of the country.’

Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images