Tony McKeever

Saru’s Super Rugby riddle solved

It is agonising to watch the South African Rugby Union (Saru) wrestle with what might appear a most complex solution to including the Eastern Cape in Super Rugby. Yet the solution to this is extraordinarily simple, delivering a non-conflict remedy that would otherwise decimate South African rugby to the benefit and advantage of the Kiwis, Australians and England (especially England, hosts of the Rugby World Cup in 2015).

You have to understand that firstly, one had to play by Saru’s rules and regulations as per the legal and binding agreements from 2005. When that did not work, in spite of being vindicated by the Cape High Court on August 4 2006, one secondly had to look at this riddle and remedy from every which way to ensure that neither Saru nor South Africa’s six Super Rugby franchises were negatively impacted or breached any broadcast or sponsor agreements.

The facts are that Sanzar will simply not permit the expansion of the Super 15 to Super 16 in 2013 because, quite simply, Sanzar has broadcast and sponsor agreements in place till 2015.

Similarly, all five South African Super Rugby franchises have player and sponsor agreements in place till 2015. There is not one piece of paper that obligates Saru to include the Southern Kings in the Super 15 next year.

On June 8 2005 SA Rugby, now Saru, took a legal and binding President’s Council decision that included the three Eastern Cape rugby unions in Super Rugby from 2006. In attendance at that meeting was current president Oregan Hoskins, James Stoffberg – chairman of the competitions committee, and four other presidents, as well as CFO Basil Haddad, who are still on the Saru exco today.

Under Hoskins and backed by the other five Super Rugby franchises, they decided to exclude three of their 14 rugby unions, namely Border Rugby, EP Rugby and SWD from Super Rugby in 2007 and 2008 with entrenchment and then a cumbersome, ill-thought-out promotion relegation match thereafter.

It was always going to be about what the team sitting out was going to do and, needless to say, that was never addressed. Now, here we are today with Saru facing the cannibalisation of its franchises, to the detriment of SA rugby, pondering the same dilemma.

Seven years later, there is still no blueprint or ‘will’ from Saru to include these three rugby unions in Super Rugby and they have suffered from this exclusion. In fact, Sanzar will not alter its Super 15 competition format until post 2015, effectively excluding these three rugby unions until then.

Despite the best of intentions from SA Rugby and the political and national will to see the introduction and inclusion of the three Eastern Cape unions in Super Rugby in 2013, after seven years there has been no coherent strategic pathway mapped out for either a promotion or relegation tournament. Nor has there been clarity regarding the financial resources required to underwrite the financial resource burden to SA Rugby as a result of the three Eastern Cape teams that have had no participation in Super Rugby for 12 years.

The Super 15 TV schedules are fixed from 2011-2015 with 5 teams per Sanzar union, so consideration instead should be given to each Sanzar union’s expansion with the addition of an extra team from 2016 onwards, which is where Saru should focus its attention.

Altering the existing Super 15 format will unleash a torrent of litigation from the existing five South African franchise participants and their sponsors against SA Rugby and the Eastern Cape unions, further draining resources and energies away from building SA Rugby’s players and unions.

An alternative pathway and strategy exists as a solution, which will:

• Defuse a potentially volatile and emotionally charged political and sporting powder keg in South Africa
• Equally and fairly develop SA Rugby’s three Eastern Cape rugby unions and their financial resources to make them independent
• Develop a pathway for the inclusion of the Eastern Cape unions into the Sanzar Super Rugby tournament from 2016
• Create new international viewership audiences to grow the game
• Establish a South African rugby presence from schools to universities in powerful new growth markets
• Establish new TV alliances and audiences for SuperSport and SABC to provide the necessary TV coverage

This alternative pathway and solution, with the introduction of a “Super 6 Series” international rugby tournament from June-August from 2012-2015 in a home (5 games) and away (5 games) series, will comprise of:

• Border Rugby – based out of Buffalo City (East London) stadium
• EP Kings – out of Mandela Bay Stadium
• SWD Eagles – out of Outeniqua Park
• “The SA Franchise-In-Waiting Team” – a Barbarians-styled team comprising emerging South African and Eastern Cape talent and overseas-based South African and opposing country players out of Mandela Bay Stadium
• USA #1: the top Western Conference team from the USA Rugby’s Premier Rugby tournament in the West Coast of the USA – San Francisco Golden Gate
• USA # 2: the top Eastern Conference team from the USA Rugby’s Premier Rugby tournament in the East Coast of the USA – Life University

Taking the top two Premier Rugby teams from the Eastern and Western Conference allows a rotation of their top two teams vying for these two berths, and offers a powerful incentive for the 12 USA Rugby Premier Rugby teams to grow their regional structures and teams.

In addition, the USA offers a significant market for South Africa to attract TV audiences, spectators and sponsor partners and the 12 Premier Rugby teams desire such an initiative.

The “Franchise-In-Waiting” team offers a team entity that retains South African player and coaching talent that might have been lost to our country, and this team could play the Maoris or some of the Australian and Argentina teams outside of the super rugby tournament windows, and be coached by Peter de Villiers so that his expertise is not lost to SA Rugby.

All involved in rugby agree on the significant benefits that would accrue to Border, EP & SWD which, in a matter of hours, need to be vetted and agreed on by the Competition Committee for further progress.

Rather than pursue an agenda of conflict, the Minister of Sport and Recreation now has the unique opportunity to stage an intervention and, in a day, with the participation of all stakeholders, deliver a solution of harmony and inclusiveness by endorsing and insisting that SARU implement a proposed “Super 6″ international rugby tournament. This tournament would assist the growth and introduction of the three Eastern Cape teams, as well as all of SA Rugby, into “Super” rugby in preparation for winning the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and establishing a new improved Super Rugby tournament from 2016 and beyond.

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  • Laurence

    Tony is on the right track more or less….. However it is a bit retarded to include three teams from the eastern cape and the ‘franchise in waiting’ barbarians team that will share the same stadium as the ep kings!!??? Why not include teams from Argentina or canada??

  • Tony McKeever

    Laurence – here is the rationale.

    As the 3 Eastern Cape Unions have been out of the loop of Super Rugby for so long – 4 years – each with 5 home games and 5 away games builds a local support base and allows each of the 3 unions to generate revenues from sponsors and advertisers and supporters/spectators for each of their Home games.
    The Franchise In Waiting should in my opinion also play 5 home games around South Africa in each of the other franchises stadiums with curtain raisers from the young turks of the other 5 franchises.
    This then spreads the rugby following of the Eastern Cape throughout South Africa.
    Good for all rugby followers and they/us can all see for ourselves the performance or not of the emerging Super Rugby team.

    Finally – and this really matters – instead of the Eastern Cape getting one rinky dink wanna-be Super Rugby side for possibly 2013 – with possibly a mere 8 home games – the Eastern Cape now gets 20 home games each year for 4 years.

    That now makes rugby followers in the Eastern Cape happy chappies & chickies – making up for lost time – so come 2016 – the EC will be firing on all 12 cylinders – ready to nuke the Aussies and Kiwis.

  • Laurence

    Tony, your explanation sheds some further light, however; the following should be considered:

    1. The plan seems fairly convoluted, and Saru cannot even simply negotiate what should have been a straight forward relegation system to allow the kings in. Not so sure they can manage this type of proposal without a fatal strain of the communal brain cell.
    2. Player management – having to manage a single a hard enough, now you have to negotiate with a separate entity (barbarians team) not going to work easily..
    3. It doesn’t seem to resemble a super league if only two other foreign teams are involved with the idiot SA rugby cousin and his multiple personalities.
    4. The level of traditional super rugby will never be reached without including additional clubs from say Argentina or Canada ( these nations seem to be the obvious choice geographically). It would have to rival northern hemi league stds which are arguably not up to super rugby stds by a country mile.
    4. Either three distinct EC teams should be considered or one combined team. The stadium sharing is an accident waiting to happen. Introduce more foreign teams to boost # of home games and tournament profile.

  • Mabuzi

    Remove politics from rugby. When I was young, in the days of black and white tv, my dad told me, “son there is more politics in rugby than rugby itself”.

    This was the days of race rugby, old boys clubs, provincialissm, private school preference and agents.

    So what has changed?

  • Tony McKeever


    1. The plan is hardly convoluted but the only coherent manner in delivering an international tournament to the region.
    Canada and Argentina do not have the player depth to entertain participation. Maybe after 4 years.
    2. No barbarians team – but a Franchise-In-Waiting team comprising Eastern Cape players, maybe even some USA Football giants and any number of the 450 South African professional players overseas.
    3. Argentina & Canada do not have the regional strength that the Eastern Cape does. National yes but regional no.
    4. There are 3 distinct Eastern Cape teams of Border, EP & SWD. The inclusion of a Franchise-In-Waiting team allows conditioning, strenghtening and development and blooding of a 19 year old today to playing Super Rugby in 2016 as a 24 year old.

    This plan is not some instant quick fix.
    It has been developed and crafted in consultation with the USA over 5 years.

  • Tony McKeever


    From your grand dad to your dad to you and your sons and sons sons, there is and always will be politics in sport.
    It is merely a question of managing both the politics and sport in an agreeable manner, instead of making it a winner-takes-all contest.
    If the rules are fair and equal for all – there will be some dust ups but no mortal casualties.

    Well so my dad told me!

  • ozsaffa

    Hi Tony…

    I like it… but you’ve forgot the most important aspect… just who and what is going to pay for this?

    EP rugby is broke… and I very much doubt viewing in the area will afford them this competition?

  • Tony McKeever


    I know that.

    To begin with.

    6 Teams each with 5 Home & 5 Away Games is 60 Games of 80 mins – each of which have a top & tail as well as 3 mins halftime advertising – for a total of 8 mins for 60 games is 480 mins of ad time to be sold by the broadcaster/s – to advertisers in each country that want access to SA & USA audiences. That detail is confidential.

    Then following that comes tournament sponsors for SA & USA that desire title sponsorship. Then after that comes sub-sponsors and Official Suppliers and partners like airlines, hotels and ground transfers.

    Each of the 6 teams gets R3m per annum for 4 years – except the 2 USA teams who need to compete for the top two slots of their USA Premier Rugby Tournament and this could change from year to year.

  • ozsaffa

    Thanks Tony…

    However I simply cannot see many company’s lining up to sponsor three teams in the EP for the required amount needed to fly/accommodate/officiate the comp let alone in America…

    Furthermore R3mill could barely even sustain Luke Watson’s wage at the Kings let alone 30 more players?

  • Tony McKeever


    Flights, accommodation & ground transfers are attended to for all 6 teams and officials by the Organising committee.
    R3m per team for 90 days is what they get from the OC – thereafter they can go to the market themselves – well actually they can go to beforehand because of the airtime each team will receive and within the sponsorship guidelines sell sponsorships for the team, kit and apparel that must not be in violation of the tournaments sponsors.
    And of course you raise a good point re high priced players or hired “guns” – best to nurture the talent and sign 2 year deals with a salary cap and base.
    Hence the R3m to be spent primarily on retaining and luring talent.

  • Adam Wakefield

    This is great stuff. Pity SARU at times haven’t shown the flexibility for such an approach.

  • Susan

    Tony, I’m so glad you are still pursuing the Eastern Cape’s participation in top rugby. One day we shall have new kings!

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  • @BwanaChris


    There have been huge developments and investigations into matters behind the scenes.
    You’ll have my email from this post, please contact me urgently