‘SA Rugby is throwing us under the bus’

Cheetahs managing director Harold Verster has shared his frustration with SA Rugby’s decision to kick the team out of the PRO14.

SA Rugby on Tuesday confirmed the existing Super Rugby franchises are in line to make the transition to an expanded PRO Rugby competition.

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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.

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.

The Cheetahs have effectively been left with two options: find a new home in a Super Eight tournament alongside teams from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Japan, or go the legal route and fight for their place in PRO Rugby.

Speaking during an interview with RugbyPass, Verster – who was set to retire from his role this week – complained that the decision was being made to the detriment of the Free State franchise.

‘Like in Super Rugby, we are on the back foot. We need to go through all the documentation to try to prove our case. It is very unfair,’ Verster told RugbyPass. ‘We opened negotiations with the PRO14 in 2017 and it was quite a difficult road to travel, to find your feet, contract players. 

‘We lost a lot of players who wanted to play Super Rugby. We have lost coach Franco Smith to Italy, Rory Duncan to Worcester, Daan Human to the Boks, Dave Williams to the Sharks, and even our doctor to Dubai. We regrouped, we have got brilliant coaches, doctor, a brilliant team, one of the best teams in a long time. Suddenly this thing hits you like a lightning bolt.

‘When we joined the PRO14, SARU said they appreciated our solution to being left out of Super Rugby, they called it an “elegant settlement” and said in their report that it would be wonderful for South African rugby. Now they are throwing us out of the bus. It is so unfair. It is really, really frustrating. We are very unhappy with our situation.’

The Cheetahs board will meet on Friday to plot the way forward and determine whether to abide by SA Rugby’s decision or go to court, having already brought in a high-profile advocate to review their case.

‘Our senior counsel has looked at it and we feel very comfortable that we have got a good legal case,’ Vester added. ‘We do not want to enter into legal battles with SARU. The last option would be legal, but if that’s the last thing to stand on, every union will obviously look at it.’


Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images