WP denies big salaries have come back to bite

WPPR chairman Ebrahim Rasool has refuted reports suggesting WP Rugby is being put under administration, while also revealing the franchise is on the verge of securing a ‘global’ equity partner. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

It was confirmed last week that a joint committee – including WPPR (the professional wing), WPRFU (the amateur arm) and SA Rugby – will be involved in overseeing WP Rugby’s affairs going forward.

While an array of financial and legal turmoil haunting the WPRFU has been well documented in recent years, there has been a separation of sorts, and an upturn of player-retention fortunes as focus has shifted to stabilising the professional wing of the franchise.

At the end of March, Frans Malherbe opted to sign a contract extension with WPPR, while it was recently confirmed that fellow World Cup-winning prop Steven Kitshoff had agreed to commit his future to the Stormers, where he has been confirmed as captain.

Damian Willemse has also recommitted to the Cape side, while hooker Scarra Ntubeni is another key member of the squad who agreed to a three-year contract extension. This follows a sequence of re-signings from highly regarded young players.

And although it has been reported that one of the reasons SA Rugby will be involved in the management of the union’s affairs is due to the offer of ‘excessive’ contracts, both Rasool and Stormers coach John Dobson fronted up at a media conference on Tuesday to insist that there had been no over-expenditure.

With franchises operating on a R60-million annual budget for no more than 45 contracted professional players, there have been questions recently raised over how WP have managed to retain the services of their top Boks.

Of course, though, there is the players of national interest (Poni) contribution to consider, which falls outside the salary cap, with franchises only carrying the bill of what they pay that particular player above the Poni amount.

In this regard, Dobson said the reported figure of Willemse being offered close to R5m in the first year of his new contract was not on the money.

Besides stating that Willemse’s salary is a lower amount, the Stormers coach said WP Rugby’s cost to company was in fact less than the Poni contribution that they pass on from SA Rugby.

‘We’re very pleased that we have been able to retain the services of the majority of our players and Springboks, and have also satisfied our main sponsors. We have a squad that is extremely competitive, and in fact 15.3% less than the the salary cap. With that in mind, we can’t have been throwing around all the money that has been alluded to.

‘On an individual basis, we want to respect the sanctity of what a player earns. When it came to Damian the incorrect salary was published. I can’t give you exactly what he earns, but what was reported is considerably way off … and it is certainly not costing WP Rugby anywhere near the R5.2m [average salary per annum] that was published.’

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Meanwhile, touching on the involvement of SA Rugby, Rasool said it wasn’t a case of interference but rather ‘co-operation’.

‘SA Rugby has been made privy to our financial statements, and the engagements so far have convinced SARU there is no substance to the suggestion from some clubs that Western Province Rugby should be placed under administration…

‘This is not an imposition, but it rather allows SARU a glimpse into the challenges we are facing, and it’s been an opportunity to enlist their help.’

Rasool added that a process was well under way to establish a partnership with a private-equity firm, and that there were hopes of a ‘marriage’ being confirmed in the coming months.

‘We have signed non-disclosure agreements, but there are two companies of global standing looking into investing, and now there is a process of financial discovery and due diligence under way.’

With this in the pipelines, Rasool said they had halted the search for a new CEO until they had a private equity partner on board to form part of this appointment process.

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Craig Lewis