‘Cash-strapped Kings must invest in academy’

Andy Royle, St Andrew’s College director of rugby and chairman of the Albany Rugby Union, believes the Eastern Province Rugby Union must prioritise local schoolboy scouting and the reestablishment of an academy system.

Earlier this week it was reported that Kings players and staff members were paid 10 days late. This comes as no surprise to South African rugby followers, many of whom have come to regard the Kings as something of a farcical franchise.

Despite the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (GRC) having bought a 74% stake in the franchise in 2019, it appears the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) continue to struggle with severe financial burdens.

READ: Kings embroiled in more financial trouble

With the Covid-19 pandemic likely to curtail the remainder of the current Pro14 season, the economic future looks bleak for Kings. But there could be a way back to prosperity.

Royle, St Andrew’s director of rugby since 2015 and head coach since 2017, highlights the need for the union to bring back an academy structure which could alleviate these financial woes in the long term.

‘There’s a major gap between the Kings’ professional arm (GRC) and the EPRU, which is seen to be amateur.

‘The EPRU had a successful academy; they actually won the Currie Cup U19 (in 2015). A lot of those players are currently in the Sharks’ setup and playing professionally in the Pro14 and Super Rugby. Unfortunately, they lost the financial backing, but I do believe there is a place for a solid academy team.

‘I’m not sure how that recruiting goes. As an example, St Andrew’s College has been a top performer in the Eastern Cape now for the past three years and, if you look at the past five years, we haven’t produced a single Eastern Province player.

‘We’ve produced 16 professional rugby players and not one of them is representing our own home union.’

When queried about the local schools’ impact on the professional setup, Royle remained frank.

‘Each school looks after themselves; each school is a business. Your job is to provide education and do the best you can for your boys and hopefully provide a professional environment for them to excel.

‘I know for a fact that a lot of (EP) schools do that and they’re a lot more professional than what happens at the next level. That becomes quite difficult for the boys to accept.

‘I believe that the gap is just beyond, between professional and schools, and that is where the solutions lie. We have the potential to produce a quality professional outfit, a quality junior outfit. We had 26 Craven Week players in the last three years and not one was ever approached by the EPRU, their home union.’

– Written by Shaun Goosen