SA Rugby’s negotiations with PRO Rugby is the first step to securing its long-term financial future with a move to the northern hemisphere, writes DYLAN JACK.
On Tuesday, one of the worst-kept secrets in South African rugby was officially confirmed when it was revealed the existing Super Rugby franchises are in line to make the transition into an expanded PRO Rugby competition.
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.
Understandably, Cheetahs fans and stakeholders have been burnt by the decision especially as this is not the first time the Free State franchise has had to make way for the Super Rugby teams.
However, when one looks at the bigger picture where SA Rugby needs to secure South African rugby’s long-term financial future, one can understand why the decision was made.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that the Southern Kings were placed in their second liquidation in only seven years. This came after the third instance where the Kings franchise failed to honour its contractual obligation to pay players and staff members.
Subsequently, 58 people from the Kings – 36 players and 22 staff – were left without a job just days before payday.
In July – just three months after South Africa went into the Covid-19-enforced lockdown – the Valke also filed for liquidation, leaving their own players and staff in a difficult situation.
This is the reality of the era SA Rugby is currently facing. Voluntary liquidations have become such a norm in South African rugby that people forget about the human impact of such a move.
If we are being honest, the writing has been on the wall for both Super Rugby and the Currie Cup in its current format for some time. Both competitions have become rather stale through their constant format changes and simply don’t pull in the spectator interest that they used to.
PRO Rugby in May announced that it had received an investment from CVC Capital Partners to the tune of €140 million. CVC Capital has previously invested in sport through Formula 1, Premiership Rugby in England and MotoGP.
While the South African franchises did not get a share of the investment, it is clear why SA Rugby would want to get involved in northern-hemisphere rugby if these are the numbers mentioned.
The potential move to PRO Rugby could be just the first step in ensuring the survival of the South African rugby franchises. The next step would be to get the South African teams into Europe through either the Champions or Challenge Cup and then to get more regular Test matches against the Six Nations.
As SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus outlined in a media conference, there are also on-field benefits to such a move. Travelling will be far easier for players and coaches, which will make planning for the next game much easier.
Concerns over not playing against New Zealand teams are legitimate, especially given the level we saw in Super Rugby Aotearoa, but the competence levels of the Irish and Scottish clubs, in particular, should not be underestimated. The likes of Leinster, Munster, Ulster, Connacht, Edinburgh and the Glasgow Warriors are full of top players, many of them Test-rugby players, who will certainly present the South African teams with a different challenge.
This is not to say that SA Rugby should abandon ship on Sanzaar, and it is good to hear that the Springboks could continue playing against the All Blacks regularly through the Rugby Championship.
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