Skinstad: SA teams deserve seat at European table

Bob Skinstad says private investment will be key if South Africa’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship teams are to make a successful step up to the European Champions Cup next season. DYLAN JACK reports.

After finishing in the URC’s top eight, three South African teams – the Vodacom Bulls, Sharks and Stormers – will be playing in the top flight of Europe next season, where they will take on the likes of Toulouse and Saracens.

The recent Champions Cup final between La Rochelle and Leinster was played at high intensity on Saturday, with the French side snatching a late victory to claim their very first title.

SA’s teams have had a mixed bag when it has come to balancing their squads between the URC and Currie Cup this season. The Bulls have managed to perform well in both competitions, finishing fourth in the URC and currently leading the Currie Cup. However, the Sharks, Western Province/Stormers and the Lions have struggled to maintain consistency between the two tournaments.

Participation in the Champions and Challenge Cup will present an added burden on player resources, especially as it the Currie Cup is expected to run around the same time next season.

Speaking during a URC media conference, former Springbok loose forward and current Premier Sports commentator Skinstad said it is important for every SA team to secure a private equity partner if they want to be competitive in Europe.

“It’s a good question because it runs through to the organisational capacity of the teams themselves. We have got good administrators and we are getting better administrators,” said Skinstad. “I think the teams are going to have to be extremely well organised, well resourced on a player and financial front and extremely ready for some tough rugby at the highest level.

“I know that’s what they want because they want to win the biggest competitions. That’s why you play. You don’t want to play the easy games only, you want to play the tough games and win them. That’s how you get somewhere in a career.

“So, it’s a combination of having the right players to do that and the right coaches and player resources to do that. We had a good question about the Sharks and the aim and ambition of an ownership group and I think we will see that. That is very present at the Bulls already.

“The Stormers and the Lions are in a bit of a state of flux. The Stormers are running in administration at the moment, but the results on the field haven’t been that bad so there is a gem of value there. Maybe they will get a big-money group coming in to sweep them up. To be honest, either the Lions or the Stormers would be a fantastic opportunity for some overseas investment.

“We have just seen Chelsea Football Club bought by some American investors. There is a lot of interest in rugby growing across Europe and I think the URC is a perfect platform for that. When you have the investment, you can start to aim at having wins across the Champions Cup because the qualification is there now.”

Questions have been raised about SA’s entry into a European competition, both around the competitiveness of its teams and whether their presence in the tournaments goes against tradition.

However, Skinstad is confident the local franchises will make their presence felt next season.

“Why would South African teams – having beaten the Auckland Blues, the Crusaders – not be able to compete with and even beat the Leinsters and Munsters in the world? It’s very doable and they’ve proven that this season,” Skinstad explained. “They absolutely deserve their position at the table. To win the championship might be a step up in the first year of participation, but I think we will see them competing for it in the short years to come.”

Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

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Dylan Jack