SA Rugby’s ultimatum to Western Province Rugby Football Union, including the threat of the Stormers being replaced in the United Rugby Championship, needs to be a catalyst for decisive action, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On 20 September, WP president Zelt Marais will face a vote of no confidence.
It comes after more than enough clubs (the union’s constitution requires a meeting to be convened at the request of at least 10 clubs) finally lost patience, and called for Marais to be removed from office.
Marais is the man who was recently on the receiving end of communication from SA Rugby president Mark Alexander, calling for him to deliver on verbal agreements that WP would begin enforcing steps to remedy a litany of financial issues and resolve increasingly fractious infighting.
As reported by Rugby365.com, Alexander’s call included a warning that the Stormers could even be replaced by the Cheetahs in the United Rugby Championship if WP continues to be effectively run into the ground.
Given that the URC is set to kick off on 24 September, it may seem highly unlikely, but SARugbymag.co.za has learned that it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Change has to come.
During the WPRFU’s general council meeting last month, Marais came under fire for disobeying and acting in direct conflict to the instructions of the joint WPRFU and SA Rugby advisory committee.
SA Rugby has since walked away from the joint committee and, while initially hesitant to do so, the governing body could find itself with little option but to invoke clause 28 of the constitution and place the union under administration.
As catastrophic as this sounds, SA Rugby taking control and appointing administrators to manage WP Rugby’s affairs may turn out to be the best option in this worst-case scenario.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that a vote of no confidence will pass on 20 September, and there is no certainty that any alternatives would provide a quick fix.
What’s largely been overlooked in the midst of this off-field quagmire is the fact that the WP and Stormers are fighting a losing battle on the field.
At a time when the Sharks and Bulls are benefiting from the backing of significant private investors, and drawing strength from the holistic strengths of how their organisations are run, these two franchises are pulling away from the rest in South African rugby.
WP Rugby’s structural frailties, as a result of the power wielded by amateur administrators and club allegiances, has led to a knock-on effect where the professional arm cannot escape the instability caused.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that the Stormers and WP have spent millions of rands less than the likes of the Bulls and Sharks when it comes to player recruitment.
Both of those franchises have considerably bolstered their squad depth, particularly with the demands of the URC in mind, but the Stormers are not in a position to do the same, and are being left behind.
In the greater context of the off-field challenges facing the union, it was really no surprise to see Western Province nearly miss out on the Currie Cup playoffs, and the gulf between WP and the Bulls in the semi-final spoke volumes.
There is a bigger problem at the heart of such struggles.
The time has come to start treating the cause rather than the symptoms, and if it has to come at the behest of SA Rugby, or in a doomsday scenario of expelling the Stormers from the URC, then so be it.