Kings chief operating officer Charl Crous believes there are a number of reasons why the Eastern Cape franchise still warrants a place in Super Rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks that the Kings are set to be one of the teams to be cut from Super Rugby should the competition be reduced from 18 to 15 teams from next year.
After making their Super Rugby debut in 2013, the Kings were then displaced in the competition when they lost a promotion-relegation contest against the Lions.
Although the Port Elizabeth-based team returned to Super Rugby when the format was expanded from 15 to 18 teams last year, the Kings' build-up to the competition was blighted by financial turmoil that threw their preparations into disarray.
SA Rugby eventually stepped in to try and rescue the situation, but a poorly prepared Kings side went on to lose 13 out of 15 games last season, while the crowds in Port Elizabeth proved to be a far cry from what they were in 2013.
So far this season, the Kings have proven to be more competitive, but ultimately still have only the solitary win to show for their efforts after the first six rounds of action, while the Super Rugby axe now once again hangs over the franchise.
In an exclusive interview with SARugbymag.co.za, Crous said the case of the Kings’ place in Super Rugby could not be assessed without fully understanding the challenges faced.
‘It would obviously be a big blow for us if we were cut from Super Rugby. We haven’t had long-term certainty and security within SA rugby’s competition structures, and that has made it difficult to procure sponsors and to sell our product to commercial partners.
‘To answer the question of whether the Kings deserve to retain their place in Super Rugby, you have to look at how we have performed in relation to the budgets and resources of our competitors,’ he continued. ‘And in terms of how we’ve managed with the resources at our disposal, I believe we have done well to remain competitive, while there have been some real improvements in our performances this year.’
Crous reiterated that there was still plenty of value in having a Super Rugby franchise situated in the diverse Eastern Cape region, which includes the unions of Border and Eastern Province.
‘I really believe the Kings can remain a crucial component in the development of players for SA rugby. It’s so important that we continue to expand our rugby footprint into untapped and outlying regions of the country, where there remains a hotbed of talent. Down in the Eastern Cape, we certainly have the player base to produce young players who can go on to play at Super Rugby level, and certainly contribute to the transformation of the game. But it remains vital for them to have a local franchise that they can aim to play for.’
Earlier this year, the Kings were cut from the Currie Cup Premier Division, and the prospect of now losing out on a place in Super Rugby could be a killer blow to rugby in the region.
‘If the Kings were to be cut from the competition, the only light at the end of the tunnel would be if there were an alternative competition that we could work towards being a part of,’ Crous commented. ‘We are already obviously looking to build towards earning promotion back to the Premier Division of the Currie Cup, while with the talk of a global calendar coming into effect in the future, perhaps there would be a different sort of competition that we could work towards being a part of as well.
‘At the end of the day, we desperately need to have a good news story that we can take back to the public. There has been a lot of uncertainty about the long-term future and sustainability of the Kings. So as soon as we can present a product with a sound plan in place, then I really believe we could exceed what we began to achieve in 2013.’
Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images