RECENTLY I had the pleasure of reading the autobiography of our former Springbok coach, Peter de Villiers. Based on his four-year tenure, his relationship with the media, his bosses and his wonderful way with words, it was always going to be entertaining and it did not disappoint.
However, the most startling aspect of the book is the way he was treated by Saru bosses and other influential people in sport and related politics because he would not be their puppet and, for some, a political pawn. Saru comes across as a mafia, who have no time for those who don’t bend to their rules and the recent events of the Southern Kings is evidence of this.
We were told by Saru chief executive Jurie Roux that on July 13 a decision would be made and the public informed as to how the Kings would be incorporated into Super Rugby next season. We were told it was only a case of how as the assurance was given to government that they would be included, come what may.
This is the umpteenth timeline for some or other action, whether it be to meet government or Sanzar or whoever, but there is still no clearer picture as to where things are heading. Time is running out fast for Roux and the Kings, who indicated on a New Zealand website, AllBlacks.com last week that quite a few local as well as overseas players were being signed.
This is now at risk, I am sure, as the players will need to be signed with money from sponsors who won’t commit until Saru commits. So far a lot of talk but no commitment from anyone.
Then this past weekend an article appears in a Cape Town newspaper causing a huge frenzy on social network sites, indicating that the Kings and Saru have done a deal worth R40-million basically selling out rugby in this region and protecting the Lions franchise until 2016. Thankfully, Kings management have rubbished these stories ("Watson denies R40m Kings deal”, July 16), but I have learnt in my time that stories don’t just pop up for no reason and with so much information regarding the "deal” as well.
I have to wonder where the stories originated from and after reading what our former coach says about our rugby administrators, I can make some obvious deductions. It’s very apparent that the Kings and our EP management are a major problem for Saru.
At the end of the Craven Week, Saru again showed its muscle and relegated the very good EP side to the curtain raiser match v KZN, while the hapless Lions were given the privilege of playing the main match against the Bulls, where, like their senior team this year, they were duly annihilated.
While the decision to import players initially to play in the Kings is the right decision for now, it is clear that the talent from this region will eventually make this a truly representative team in the years to come. We have seen this with our fantastic EP U18 side.
Saru has indicated that no current franchises will have to make way for the Kings and this is where the problem lies. Sanzar is reluctant to expand the competition and nobody here has the guts to inform the Lions franchise that they have consistently been the weakest team and are currently the weakest team, so they need to give way.
There is hardly a player from that region in the team anyway as their side is loaded with former Maties players and out-of-towners or journeymen, so it should not be an issue, as far as I am concerned. The problem I foresee though is that the Kings are being set up to fail.
The Australian sides, the Rebels and Force, are slowly finding their feet and they had all the time and support to prepare themselves for the toughest competition in world rugby. I hope the government starts to intervene as I have been wondering when people like Cedric Frolick would get involved.
Whatever happens though, Saru needs to bring an end to this soap opera so everyone can move forward. We, in this region, have been patiently waiting our turn and have placed our trust in Saru and its leadership for the past few years.
Let’s hope the right decision is made because regardless of whether Saru is ready, rugby and its people in the Eastern Cape are ready. If you are not concerned with the capabilities of those in charge, do yourself a favour and read De Villiers’s book.
It’s wonderfully told, honestly reported, a wonderful read and gives one so much insight into workings of our rugby leaders. Come on Jurie, the 13th has come and gone.
Graeme Sauls, Port Elizabeth