REGARDLESS of what Saru throws our way, the Southern Kings have got this far and together we will ensure our survival. Imagine then my disgust when I see on social network forums, letters and SMSes to the media how negative people are about the Kings' chances and the way the Lions were treated.
The worst though are the unsavoury personal attacks on Cheeky Watson and even Luke Watson, who have been singled out by bitter Lions fans and some local confused foreigners. To their credit, Cheeky and Luke have chosen not to reply to these comments, but I guess I am not that good a person and too much of a "naartjie" just to sit back.
Here are some facts and opinions:
- The Lions have been the worst performing franchise in the country on and off the field;
- The Super 15 is a franchise competition and not an extension of the domestic competitions in each region. The Australians have four premier sides, but have five Super league teams.
Even in New Zealand Otago (Highlanders) play in the ITM Cup, which is a division below their premier division. The Kings, therefore, would certainly not be the only side in the Super 15 who don't play in the top league of their domestic competition;
- There are more than 30 local born players either playing in the Super 15 currently or in the Northern Hemisphere competitions, so there is no disputing the quality of players coming out of this region;
- Our age level rugby is outstanding and all our teams feature among the top sides in their groups, and in fact continually beat age group teams from the franchise areas;
- Cheeky Watson is an employee of the Southern Kings who has done an outstanding job of securing the franchise for our region. He was mandated by the people of this region and he has delivered.
Maybe instead of criticising our leadership and questioning their intentions or how they would benefit personally, maybe people should focus on the leadership of the Lions, who have gone from being the wealthiest and most powerful union to possibly the worst managed in a very short while. The irony is that they probably cannot even contest this decision in court as there is no money for that.
Not a murmur was heard when senior Boks and a few young talented rugby players up north were lured by the pound and euro, and turned their back on playing rugby for their country. I would rather have a player who turns down the green and gold on what he constitutes moral grounds than for the greed of silver.
I hope the haters who have questioned the passion of our captain have seen him in the games he has played this season for the Kings. Luke has been outstanding as a player and a leader, and just like our former Bok coach, I believe he is the most natural leader of a rugby team and the right man for our Super 15 challenge.
Despite Saru's obvious attempt at trying to railroad our campaign, I have no doubt that the quality players we need will be signed. And herein lies the fact that the folks up north just cannot understand.
From the outset, the Kings management have indicated that with the help of initially signed established players, local players would come through the franchise and fulfil the transformation objectives at this level that is already so apparent at all other levels.
I am under absolutely no illusions that next year will be the toughest year in the history of rugby in this region, probably only matched when the lineout calls changed in the '90s and had to be done in English. Our players are going to be under some pressure when they play abroad, but the pressure will be even more immense when they play at the other stadiums around the country.
For some or other reason, there are knowledgeable people at the stadia in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein who have decided that we never deserved our place and they did.
Look at the Sharks. When the Currie Cup was expanded many years ago from six to eight teams, Natal was promoted without playing promotion/ relegation matches. Look at that same union now and see what that decision has done to rugby in that province and for rugby in the country as a whole.
But there is also a lesson in how these people support their sides. The people in Pretoria support the Bulls, those in Durban support the Sharks and the entire Cape Town supports the Stormers. Why? Because that is the team they are associated with, that is the team that represents their region, city or even area.
So, the Eastern Cape needs to step up and do the same. Support the Kings, support Cheeky, support Luke, support everyone involved in rugby in this region because they are looking after our team.
Graeme Sauls, Port Elizabeth