Nick Mallett has suggested the Vodacom Bulls and Lions amalgamate as one franchise in order to reduce the number of professional players in South Africa.
Mallett spoke to Bruce Whitfield as part of a ‘Think Big’ webinar series, hosted by financial services group PSG.
During the webinar, the conversation switched to how South African rugby should reorganise itself coming out of an enforced break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has halted all sport in the country.
Mallett argued that in order to ensure that the best players were playing in the country, South Africa should reduce the number of professional teams to four – with the Lions and Bulls joining to form one franchise. This would also be to ensure that the Southern Kings get a fair share of top professional players and therefore strengthen.
SA Rugby has previously experimented by forming the Cats in 1998 and drew its players mainly from the Lions and Free State Cheetahs. Unfortunately, the team only made the semi-finals of what was then the Super 12 twice before the Cheetahs split from it in 2006.
‘First of all we need to look at our structures,’ Mallett said. ‘Have we got the right structures in terms of our professional set-up? We have two teams playing in Europe and four teams playing in Super Rugby.
‘Perhaps we need to take a look at the number of professional rugby players we can afford in this country and relook the different franchises. If you play a professional sport, you should be happy to go wherever you get bought. That happens in America in professional sport.
‘So, if a guy’s an SA Schools player and he plays flyhalf for Affies or Grey Bloem, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to play for the Bulls or the Cheetahs. He could be sent to Port Elizabeth because the franchise in Port Elizbeth needs a flyhalf and they need to strengthen their team.
‘What I think would be best – and the professional way it should be done – is to divide up South Africa differently. You have got to spread the talent around four franchises, one which I believe has to include the Eastern Cape, because it is the heartbeat of black rugby. [Siya] Kolisi, [Makazole] Mapimpi, [Lukhanyo] Am and [Lizo] Gqoboka come out of there.
‘There are numerous players who left the Eastern Cape who go to other unions and make their names. If you had a professional franchise that functioned with a very good coach and a decent amount of money so they can keep their players, you would regenerate rugby in that area, which is a traditional rugby area for black players.
‘It’s a no-brainer. You can’t have Cape Town and Durban and nothing in between. You need something in the Eastern Cape.
‘I understand Gauteng is very strong. You can easily handle two professional teams. But it’s a small area, 50km apart. Surely you can come to some arrangement whereby you have one franchise up there. Take half the players from the Bulls and half the players from the Lions and spread them out so that the Eastern Cape has a powerful side.’
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