Tony McKeever

SA rugby in peril?

This has been the annual siren call of Professor Willie Basson, the Saru transformation and development consultant, to Saru for eight years. And still Saru persists with an archaic approach to developing and growing rugby in SA.

With the Springboks having won two, drawn two and lost two (and our coach Heyneke Meyer, regaling us during these Tests, with his one-handed “walkie-talkie-freak-out”, a condensed handheld South African version of the Haka) the character, resolve and ability to vanquish the enemy, will put Saru under enormous pressure-cooker scenarios, that will test the parent body’s ability to organise the South African rugby calendar from October 2012 to December 2020.

Who would have thought that the great and very real possibility exists of a Blue Bulls vs EP Kings promotion relegation match for the 2013 Currie Cup Premier Division, is just a mere six weeks away? That will be a match-up of note that could surprise and enthral and has the equivalent pulling power of a Test match.

Then the second real possibility and likelihood is a second promotion relegation shoot-out for Super Rugby in July 2013 between the Lions and the Southern Kings. That now brings its own set of unresolved problems and issues, like TV coverage, tournament rules the need to apply for 2013, 2014 and 2015 as well as the not insignificant vacuum of having to fill 16 televised Super Rugby games to replace those lost in Super 15 for 2013-2015.

We see and hear no attention to these critical matters from Saru which derives the bulk of its revenues from the Super Rugby broadcast deal, as these match-ups are three prequels to the 2016-2020 Super Rugby tournament and again there is little to no initiative or offering from Saru on what options it’s considered for all its 14 rugby unions.

The brouhaha that is about to erupt and especially the missing R125 million Saru lost to inept Sanzar negotiations, as well as the bungling of the admission of the sixth South African Super Rugby franchise, will no doubt become two of the flashpoints for the Saru 2013 elections in February, to usher in an administration and management that can plan ahead without creating an environment that cannibalises one union at the expense of another. Therein lies another tale that we can visit, if this interests you.

So then, this is how the 2012 promotion/relegation works, which could set the precedent for the 2013 Super Rugby promotion relegation matches in July 2013.

As from 2012 two promotion/relegation matches will be played at the end of the each season. The team with the lowest number of log points in the Currie Cup premier division, now the Bulls at nine points with four games to go, will play two promotion/relegation matches, home and away, in November, against the team, now the EP Kings, with the most number of log points in the Currie Cup first division as follows:

The Currie Cup premier division sixth placed team versus the Currie Cup first division team at the top of the log (home and away).

The first round match will be played at the venue of the team from the premier division (Loftus Versfeld) and the second round match at the venue of the team from the first division (Mandela Bay Stadium).

These matches will be played in accordance with paragraph eight of section two — log points format — of the rules of the competition.

After completion of the two Currie Cup promotion/relegation matches, the team with the most log points accumulated during these two critical matches will play in the Currie Cup premier division in the 2013 season.

That 2013 Currie Cup season, also starting in July next year, will kick off after another monster two promotion relegation matches for Super Rugby in July 2013 to determine who will play Super 15 in the 2014 Super Rugby season.

But where oh where are these tournament rules and where are the 16 replacement televised games for the Lions or any other franchise that will sit out Super Rugby from February to July in 2013, 2014 and 2015?

Any one of the 12 premiership teams in the UK, as well as the TOP 14 French teams are unavailable to play in 2013 and 2014 as their season runs from September to May and they will not release expensive players to get banged up against a South African side for the mere spectacle.

Similarly no broadcaster will look at the zero value offered by exhibition games with a Pacific Islands composite side or even Fiji, Tonga or Samoa, as advertisers don’t see a market in these micro-nations nor the broadcasters being able to syndicate this rugby inventory to broadcasters around the world.

Rugby sides like the Pumas, without their professional players plying their trade in France, the composite sides of the US Eagles and Canadian Maple Leafs, offer little options with as much excitement and value to sponsors and broadcasters as a sherbet lollipop trying to pass itself off as a London Olympics closing ceremony extravaganza. So where are these options for the six South African franchises? There are none. Saru’s lip service of “we will try to” and “will use our best endeavours to” quite simply is inadequate and don’t cut it and put our game in peril.

Now what is Saru going to do about it and what are we going to do about it?

  • MammaJ

    my point exactly on Boots n all this morning. In a nutshell, even the thought of a proud Bulls union facing relegation to 1st division is bringing up bile in my mouth. I am left with just one question. Do these Saru so called bosses even know how to spell the word tradition? I dont think so. Noooo, ’twasnt enough to oust the Lions from SR, now a proud union or 2 may well face relegation after one bad season, and i bet some o’ them bosses were All Black supporters prior ’95. Preposterous bunch of “wanna make a name” losers. My advice to Saru is to 1ST AND FOREMOST look up the word tradition, otherwise they may well pack away Sir Curry’s cup in the “never again to be found” again. Mess with the Springbok emblem, mess with age old competition formulae, now Bulls/FS possible relegation. Ooooooh, this topic is making my blood re-boil.

  • Tony McKeever

    MammaJ………… you feeling ill?


    Then this is for you – a special dedication:

    In the midday sun
    They beat on their drums
    When Mamma Joe comes to town
    With her coconut-rum
    They can all have fun
    They can drink it
    ‘Till the sun goes down

    Mamma Joe just smiles politely
    With the money she
    takes she might be
    Very rich one day as
    she hears them say

    Mamma rumbo rumbo
    Hey Mamma Joe coconut
    Mamma Joe, hey Mamma Joe
    Mamma rumbo rumbo
    Hey Mamma Joe coconut
    Mamma Joe, hey Mamma Joe
    Mamma rumbo rumbo
    Hey Mamma Joe coconut
    hey Poppa Joe, hey Poppa Joe

    Never see a sad face
    in the market place
    When Mamma Joe comes around
    For her coconut taste
    You can see them race
    Through the streets
    You can hear the sound

    All of the ladies are
    laughing gaily
    Mamma Joe’s still thinking maybe
    She’ll always hear the people say

    Mamma rumbo rumbo
    Hey Mamma Joe coconut
    Mamma Joe, hey Mamma Joe
    Mamma rumbo rumbo
    Hey Mamma Joe coconut

    There are some solutions to this rugby fiasco that could sort this out.
    Hope you feel better!!

  • Adam Wakefield

    Thanks for the post Tony! Really puts some issues that aren’t being addressed in a nutshell. Just a real mess sadly. Poorly handled in the past and now the chickens are coming home to roost. :(

  • Tony McKeever

    Hi Adam!

    As you well know this lingering problem has never been sorted over 8 years costing SA Rugby and the unions in excess of R150m and it will go from bad to worse as the problems today will be the same and even more so in 2013 & 2014.

    There is no blueprint or strategic plan from 2020 to September 2012, which is why the Aussies and Kiwis are 5 years ahead of us.

  • Peter Marklew


    I stand corrected, but apparently Kevin de Klerk is the only ex Springbok on the Presidents council. Its now run by politicians, many of whom have NO respect for anything pre-1994.
    Rugby decions are not being made to benefit Rugby, but rather narrow interests.

  • Tony McKeever


    You are correct that Kevin de Klerk is the only bona fide pedigreed rugby administrator there as a past Springbok.
    I disagree with the pre 1994 sentiment – but feel you mean that SARU have little to no grasp of the history & pedigree of South African rugby from 1887.

    You only have to look at how they treat past Springbok Captains and Coaches with disdain and contempt, let alone the players. They are excluded from all things in SA rugby and these past players, both white and black rugby legends, are the very fabric, that made South African rugby great.

    You could almost say they are driving a “nouveau” rugby culture and to hell with the past.

    And then from Australia you have the Rebels & Waratahs already have cemented their warm up games starting 2 February 2013.

    The Rebels have lined up a Super Rugby warm up match against the Waratahs in Hobart at the start of February next year (2013).

    The match, scheduled for Saturday 2 February, 2013, will be the first chance for Head Coach Damien Hill to see his new-look squad in action following the inclusion of up to 15 new players for the 2013 season.

    “From a rugby point of view, it will be the first time we will be able to put our pre-season training into a match situation which will be vital to our preparations given the new faces in the squad,” said Hill.

    And back in SA……………….well ……ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz

  • Gregg

    I hope I don’t burst anyone’s bubble but do you really think that the relegation match between the Lions and the last placed Super franchise will take place, this is still another item to be voted on and I may be a pessimist but the Lions will have to go it alone for the foreseeable future. SARU has hung them out to dry. The other unions are never going to go for the relegation match; the Lions will take 5 years to get players of quality back in the team after October 2013.
    If KDK does not find some competition of significance the Lions will become another small Union and the chance of coming back nil.

  • Brent

    The reality is that 6 ‘major’ unions just do not divide into 5 Super 15 slots, no matter who is in charge. My suggestion ± 2 years back was: 1. massive SARU financial/recources boost to the whole Eastern Cape rugby including an academy (directed at players and coaching staff, zero for the admin) 2. Promote E. Prov asap to the Currie Cup 1st division, which then has seven teams and seven teams for the ‘2nd division’ 3. Yearly play off between the 5th the SA side in Super rugby and the 6th in th eCurrie Cup for the last spot in the Super 15 4. SARU to ‘look after’ every year the losing 6th side, financially as well as coaching/resources so that this valuable 6th SA provincial side does not sink away to nothing.


  • Peter Marklew


    Good logic, but common sense isn’t so common at SARU. Narrow self interests will always sway votes. Cheeky Watson doesn’t help either, he’s toxic in the way he’s gone about it. We’ll see the EC buy just as many players as the other Unions do. The pretence in developing the EC is just that, a pretence, sadly!

  • Brent

    SARU should regionalise like the Kiwis. For Super Rugby only split SA into 6 regions as follows (excuse old terms): South – WP + Border, S West – SWD + E Prov, East – Border + KZN, Free State – Bloem + NFS + Griquas, North – N Tvl + Pumas, North/Central – Tvl + W + E Tvl. Squad of 30 play Super Rugby and another squad of ± 30 play a local ‘Vodacom Cup’ series same time as Super 15. Five choosen as per the Currie Cup standings, which stays as top six and 8 in 2nd division. The 6th regional side losing out has its top 30 playing a series of ‘Bok 2nd Division’ sides and a Developlment side/SA Under 20 during the Super 15 so as to keep its players intack plus play some superior rugby than jut a 2nd division series.

    All controlled and paid by SARU during the Super 15 series and going back to their Provincial sides for the Currie Cup.

    Brings in the whole of SA rugby plus teaches players and coaches how to mix players from different sides at a lower level than international level, helping the Boks be more cohesive.


  • Tony McKeever


    Actually a vote on that Promotion Relegation series of two matches will be taken today and will likely slot into August and fall on the final of the S15 with the following weekend being the second match.

    So it is a no option: There will be 2 Promotion Relegation matches in August next year and I am much more optimistic than you on the depth & quality of players available every year & do not believe this is a 5 year cycle.

    There definitely is a requirement – right now – for new thinking and new ideas and new business models to generate revenues out of this flawed arranging of fixtures from 2013-2015.

    I do agree with you that the Lions have been pretty much abandoned in organising a fixture list for 2013, only this time next year will be pretty much the same risk issues for another two franchises.

    What games for 2014 & 2015.

  • Tony McKeever


    There is no way round this.
    South Africa have 6 franchises and have had since 2005 and regrettably that franchise only gets to play in 2013 in an “entrenched” formula at the costly expense of the exclusion of another franchise the Lions, as well as to South African Rugby.
    The amount spent todate in “behind-the-scenes-crisis-management” will make your eyes water.

    Regardless the EP Kings have done extremely well to get to and stay at the top of the First Division Currie Cup to set up a promotion relegation series against either the Bulls or Cheetahs and that will be a great match up. A real test all round for all sorts of reasons but one true test on merit & performance and that is something to look forward to.
    So you have to give Cheeky credit for the EP Kings having performed so far.

    However, the branding and strategic positioning of using the “suffix” KINGS, for both the EP Kings and the Southern Kings, is risky and has blurred the lines between both, which dilutes the brand asset value of both the Super Rugby franchise – Southern Kings – and the provincial team – EP Kings.

    The one morphs into another and that is how it will be perceived.

  • Peter Marklew

    Brent, whilst logic would suggest you have a point. Those that vote, vote purely with self interests at heart.
    None will vote for something that is for the greater good. Also there is no ways the individual UNions will allow for a centralised core of players. They would never want to “lose” their assets.
    It is greed from the bigger established Unions, I have no doubt about it, but, I say it again, Watson has done himself NO favours in how he has gone about it. He is toxic to rugby, for rugby reasons…..but he has clout, for poiltical reasons….sad…..very sad…..

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