Four former players on whether the Kings can be competitive in Vodacom Super Rugby in 2016 and who should shoulder the blame for the union's financial woes.
Garry Pagel (former EP and Bok prop)
'This whole saga is a blemish on South African rugby. It'll be impossible for the Kings to be competitive in Super Rugby next year and I feel for the players who do bother to show up and represent them in the tournament. It won't matter with how much determination and heart they play, they are going to be punching bags, especially against Australian sides. The best of teams need depth to come through this marathon tournament and the Kings might not even be able to field a full match 23. The administrators at the union are to blame for this mess. You don't just wake up one day and realise you are in financial ruins, it's a process. Yet they kept on demanding a place in Super Rugby, knowing full well there are no funds or sponsorship deals to even pay the wages of the Currie Cup squad, let alone the Super Rugby squad. This is unfair to the players and the supporters of Eastern Province.'
Rob Louw (former WP and Bok loose forward)
'They will just be making up the numbers. There's no way the Kings will be competitive, they've lost just too many players and the ones who remain at the franchise have no trust in their bosses. It's a sad state of affairs they are in and it's heartbreaking to watch. I have no idea who's to blame for this quandary, but there is something fundamentally wrong in EP rugby and for the betterment of rugby in the region, it has to change soon. I can only imagine how humiliating it must be for professional sportsmen having to admit they are living off free food parcels and hampers. The situation is so worrying, I think the Kings should withdraw from Super Rugby for next year. It's harsh to expect players to perform against the best franchises in the world under such circumstances. It's not feasible.'
Pieter Hendriks (former Bok wing)
‘I think ultimately Cheeky Watson must take responsibility for the current state of affairs at the Kings because they for a long time said that they are going to be part of next year’s Super Rugby season. Planning should have been in place and he should take full responsibility for it. I'm glad Saru has stepped in because it's made funds available to the [EP] union, but ultimately it's the union's responsibility as to how those funds are used. I think it's an absolute disgrace that it’s been run so unprofessionally until now at this advanced stage of the season. I can’t see how they’ll be competitive, I can just imagine the morale of the players at the moment. It’s going to take a special group of guys to lift themselves up and prepare well for the season despite what’s been happening. It will be unfair of me to say he did well or not, because I have no insight into what he’s been doing there. If what I’ve read is true, there is a possible sponsorship deal available on condition that Mr Watson steps down. If that is the case, and it’s the way it's managed, then obviously money talks as it's a professional sport. Then I think it’s clear he’s not able to run the franchise.’
Ollie le Roux (former Bok prop)
'I think it's a combination of situations that's to blame for the current problems at the Kings. Playing in the big leagues is very expensive, so maybe they’ve overextended themselves. I think one has to go and study the union as a whole and see what is actually going on with their finances. But in the end I think it will be very hard to blame individuals or specific parties, but that they all have a role to play is very true. I think it's going to be really tough for them, but one thing I know about South Africans is we will always be competitive. They’ll be a tough side to beat and the new format might suit them. They probably won’t be there at the end, but it wouldn’t be a massacre like it might have been in the old format. I can’t say whether Cheeky Watson should step down or not because I don’t know what the situation at the union is – it’s easy to say someone must step down, but you need to have a plan in place if they do. But again, I think it’s more of a collective blame than an individual blame because I believe there are many factors involved.'
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