The Pumas are planning an audacious bid to become one of the six South African Super Rugby franchises. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The side from Nelspruit have been one of the stories of the Currie Cup so far, but their tale doesn't stop there. With Super Rugby set for yet another expansion in 2016, the Pumas have made it known that they want a piece of the cake, whether they are invited to the party or not.
The Pumas have already had their initial approach rebuffed after Sanzar decided to hand the 18th franchise to Asia, rather than involve a seventh South African team. Pumas president Hein Mentz said there were definite benefits in going through the tender process, although he admits that it was a battle they were unlikely to win.
'We felt that we needed to express our interests, to test the waters,' Mentz told SARugbymag.co.za on Monday. 'Saru were very helpful in putting our proposal to Sanzar, but unfortunately, we aren't able to compete with an international bid from Singapore or Japan that comes with a budget of €20 million. I don't think any South African team could.'
With the Kings guaranteed their place at the Super Rugby table come 2016, the Pumas will have to displace one of the current five franchises if they're to realise their dream. The Pumas have made great strides on and off the field since moving from Witbank to Nelspruit and Mentz believes that they have what it takes to make a success out of a Super Rugby franchise.
'There's no reason why a Super Rugby franchise can't work in Nelspruit. We've got the facilities and a new academy in the works. We don't want to continue to be a feeder union, our goals are higher than that.'
'If a union like Free State didn't have Super Rugby, would they be able to survive financially? They're able to attract sponsors and keep their best young players because of their involvement in the tournament. They have all the advantages that come with being a Super Rugby franchise.'
Saru currently selects the South African franchises that will compete in the Super Rugby tournament, which are made up of senior and junior partners. The Pumas are junior partners with the Lions in the current model, although Mentz believes that the current status quo favours the haves over the have-nots.
'One thing is clear – the current system is not working. When it comes to the distribution of Sanzar funds to the South African franchises, the senior unions tend to come first.'
'Saru needs to look at a new financial business plan where all the unions, big and small, can compete on a more even footing.'
According to Mentz there are no current guidelines set forth by Saru as to how future franchises will be selected, an issue that needs to be cleared up before 2016. The Lions' return to Super Rugby was decided by a promotion-relegation match, but the Pumas will seek a different solution.
'I don't think we'd back that process. We were knocked out of the [Currie Cup] Premier Division and had to fight our way back in.
'Whatever plan they decide to put in place, it has to be a long-term solution that benefits all parties concerned.'
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images