Time to find a real solution for EC rugby

It’s time to try another tack with Eastern Cape rugby, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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The 56 Southern Kings players and staff members who lost their jobs when the franchise’s makeshift board decided to go into voluntary liquidation were understandably upset with the call and sought legal counsel to see if they could hold anyone accountable for the decision.

When the Kings were withdrawn from participating in domestic competition it was with the understanding that this would save what money there was for salaries, and they were repeatedly given assurances that their contracts would be honoured.

Yet there they were, a week after the announcement of the liquidation, posting crowd-funding videos for any donations to help them pay their bills because the Southern Kings board had pulled the rug from under them six days before payday.

Given that the Kings are being liquidated for the second time in a handful of years, history has dropped broad hints that the likely result will be the administrators chalking down this shocking bit of ineptitude to experience and bomb on to the next disaster as if nothing ever happened.

This would suggest that the Kings experiment – having failed in Cheeky Watson, SA Rugby and the ironically named Greatest Rugby Company in Whole Wide World’s hands – will now officially be put on the scrapheap.

The question now is what shape rugby will take in the Eastern Cape, what with the other team in the province, Border, also under administration. Talk behind the scenes is that Eastern Province are trying to contract the Kings players in the hope of playing Premier Division Currie Cup.

But as things stand, all we know about Eastern Cape rugby is that despite being arguably a top-three producer of rugby talent in the country – behind the Western Cape and the Free State – its teams are set to campaign in the First Division of the Currie Cup when the game goes back to normal.

Languishing in the lower echelons of rugby in SA, and lurching from one financial crisis to another are, according to an Eastern Cape official, the reasons why no fewer than 300 kids from the region are schooling in KwaZulu-Natal, having been offered better opportunities there.

Because there’s nothing to play for, young players are said to be leaving the province earlier than they used to in the past. My suggestion? Why not turn the Eastern Cape into what it’s always unofficially been – an academy?

Players have been leaving the area in droves for at least 20 years, so why not use that talent as a strategy to get Eastern Cape rugby back on to its feet?

The basic idea is to use the broadcasting rights grants that would be spent waiting for Eastern Province or Border to go into their next financial meltdown to establish a high performance academy not too dissimilar to the one which produced Sintu Manjezi, Shakes Soyizwapi, Sergeal Petersen, Lizo Gqoboka, Junior Pokomela et al.

This academy would completely be under SA Rugby control – instead of the satellite mercenaries who have been used before – to turn the youngsters into elite rugby players. Instead of upping and leaving when they’re the finished article, the youngsters would be sold to whatever franchise is interested in their services.

The transfer fees would be split in two: to invest back into the academy and towards a savings account aimed at one day enabling the two Eastern Cape teams to play competitively again as a unified team.

You get ‘selling teams’ in soccer all the time, why not a selling region in rugby?

*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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