Whatever your thoughts on the political motivations behind the move, which are admittedly complex (when set against a backdrop of a nation still recovering from the social lopsidedness of past Apartheid), the lack of co-operation in arriving at the decision will leave neither camp content. Both in fact have already publicly voiced their disgruntlement since.
For around 7 years, this saga has plodded on with the impending possibility that a new Eastern Cape based side could be added to the South African conference. The idea being, that the new team would be able to boost 'transformation' - ie. develop a high number of black players in a sport which is still dominated by the white population at the top level in South Africa.
Ultimately though, their entry into the competition has come at the painful expense of another franchise; the Lions.
A flawed decision which leaves no-one happy
While the Lions have generally been poor since their inception (bottom of the ladder in 2012), one could almost describe the decision taken by the SARU as an indirect form of positive discrimination. Everyone would like more social mobility around the world, especially for a group of people which suffered unjustly for years, but this in my opinion is a dangerous move.
Let me clear first of all that there will be no 'quotas' or any other form of influence on the selection criteria of the team. Players, we have been informed, will still be picked on 'merit'. Clearly though, as a large percentage of the squad will be selected from the surrounding area of the Eastern Cape (which holds a large majority black population), you can see how the story will unfold.
SARU President, Oregan Hoskins, himself explained:
|Hoskins leading move for 'transformation'|
"That is why we aspired to form a franchise there - to really get our transformational imperatives to where they should be. That is really the historical black rugby area where people have played rugby for more than a century so they need to get their act together quickly."
Whether you agree or disagree with the politiking behind the move, a major problem nestles deviously in one key detail of the arrangement. The Southern Kings will only be guaranteed one year in the Super 15. That's right...ONE.
This is because the bottom placed South African side, which in all honesty will most likely be the Kings, is to face a promotion/relegation play-off with the ousted Lions next year, to decide which team deserves a spot in the 2014 Super 15.
With only one year of Super Rugby guaranteed, which marquee players are the Kings administrators supposed to attract to complement the home-grown players? The decision reeks of short-sightedness by the SARU. Some may give little sympathy to Cheeky Watson's statements surrounding the whole debacle, given the harsh treatment of the Lions, but he has a point. How can you plan for the long-term when you are only afforded a year at the top table?
Of course there is a possibility that a group of unheralded players may defy the odds and perform well in their debut season (as we saw with the surprise success of the Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership over the last two years). Considering the Kings only really have a handful of players who are decent at best at Currie Cup level though, it seems unlikely.
If you think that's an exaggeration, know that the relegated Lions thumped the Southern Kings by 88 points to nil in a pre-season friendly in February.
|What now for Lions and stars such as Elton Jantjies?|
As Hoskins explained, the Kings in particular will have to get their act together, and quickly.
Finally, I will leave you with my thoughts on the ultimate losers of this decision; the Lions (as the Kings problems pale in comparison). They seem to have been treated harshly and you have to wonder if other franchises would have been dished out the same dud hand. Can you imagine the uproar if a powerhouse franchise such as the Bulls, Stormers or Sharks had finished last this season, and then been the told that they had to make way? Call me cynical but I have a sneaky feeling it wouldn't have come to that.
The words uttered by deflated Lions president Kevin de Klerk probably sum the whole situation up best:
"We were under the impression that the outcome would have suited everybody. This must be seen in the light of what was said to the Sports Portfolio Committee, that the Kings would come in, but not at the expense of any other team. However, that statement [by the SARU] held no value, as it appears the writing was on the wall. We were led up the garden path."
What are your thoughts on the entry of the Southern Kings to Super Rugby?