The Kings’ withdrawal from any action in 2020 adds further uncertainty to domestic rugby plans that continue to be pushed back, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In many respects, the embattled Kings have effectively become the first professional rugby franchise to succumb to the financial pressures in the current global Covid-19 climate.
There were already major problems when the former majority shareholder (Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World) failed to meet its financial commitments, and stepped away from the Kings.
This left SA Rugby again needing to provide support to the Kings at a time when additional financial obligations are the last thing the national governing body needs.
This is also by no means a South African problem. Over in New Zealand, the ability to kick-start Super Rugby Aotearoa essentially saved its five franchises from the threat of insolvency.
Much has already been said about how the crowd attendances at the Blues’ home games saved the Auckland franchise from facing the real threat of going belly up.
It’s understandably a desperate situation in South Africa, where the last local live action was back in mid-March when the Sharks hosted the Stormers.
As it stands, by the time any SA team will possibly be able to return to play, over six months of absence from competitive action will have passed.
By any standards, this is brutal.
In Australasia, Europe and England there have been gradual returns to some form of action – with pre-season preparations in France even under way as the new Top 14 season looms on the horizon.
In particular, it hasn’t been easy in France, where several clubs have been affected by Covid-19 scares that have disrupted training. Of course, the focus has particularly been on Stade Francais, where all training had to be suspended as their playing squad and coaching staff headed into isolation after 25 people tested positive for coronavirus.
These are the threats faced in an ever-changing environment where nothing can be taken for granted.
It brings us back to South Africa, where players have been able to start non-contact strength-and-conditioning work in small groups, but are still waiting for the green light to be able to begin contact work once again.
Last Tuesday, SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said the hope had been to receive feedback from the government by the end of last week, while confirming that the best-case scenario was still for a local competition to be able to start in the first half of September.
Yet, there has been little movement on this front, and it remains a fluid situation that cannot be rushed or forced.
For one, players will require at least three weeks of contact training before a return to competition could be considered safe after such an extended break from the rigours of the game.
If SA Rugby were to receive the green light from government this week, for example, it’s likely that September will become the month to resume full training, but it pushes back any hope for a revised local competition to the end of the next month (possibly the weekend of 18/19 September in a best-case scenario).
What’s thrown another curveball is the decision by the Kings to withdraw from participation, while the PRO14 – set for the start of a new season in October – has now effectively become the Pro13.
‘As there was no contractual requirement for the Kings to resume short-term participation in the PRO14 competition, because of air travel restrictions, and as the Kings had no other commercial commitments to honour, the most prudent decision was to withdraw,’ Kings chairman Andre Rademan commented.
Already reports from this past weekend suggested SA Rugby was considering reducing its number of franchises, and the Kings surely cannot be kept afloat any longer. It’s a sad state of affairs for a region that is a hotbed of so much raw talent.
It also doesn’t look good for the Cheetahs going forward, and one can only speculate as to the manner in which that franchise may be looked after from 2021 onwards, especially with most speculation suggesting the four Vodacom Super Rugby sides are set to enter an expanded PRO14.
SA Rugby’s executive council will meet on Wednesday, during which the proposals can be further refined before being presented to the general council on Friday.
For now, the waiting game continues, but this week could bring some important decision-making to the fore.