With the stillborn Southern Spears and its controversial officials now finally consigned to history, the much-maligned Eastern Cape region is set to field a new team in South Africa’s domestic competitions next year.
It was confirmed on Wednesday that talks are at an advanced stage for the Border and Eastern Province unions to field a combined team in next year’s First Division competition.
This idea was first mooted back in May, when a combined Mighty Elephants-Border Bulldogs team played in two pre-season friendlies against Western Province and the Lions – going down 17-63 to WP and 9-26 to the Lions.
At the time the South African Rugby Union (SARU) described it as “the first practical step” towards the Eastern Cape unions becoming part of an expanded Super Rugby competition.
It was said at the time that if either the Bulldogs or the Elephants would gain promotion to the Premier Division (Currie Cup) competition, the other would join them at the top table in a new combined team.
“We agreed that if one of us were to achieve that [promotion], we would then contest the [Currie Cup] competition as an Eastern Cape Combined team,” Pat de Silva, President of the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) said.
“We also discussed the possibility of playing as a Combined team in the First Division next year if neither of us wins promotion,” he added.
However, another dismal season sees them occupying the last two places on the First Division standings and no chance of promotion for either.
The top two teams, currently the Leopards and Griffons, will be involved in home-and-away play-offs with the bottom two teams from the Premier Division – which are likely to be the Falcons and Boland Cavaliers – at the end of October.
Now they will join forces in the Premier Division and build towards promotion that way.
Cliffie Pringle, president of Border, said: “Our biggest problem is that our players have nothing to play for here and leave as soon as any offer comes in. We cannot offer them University bursaries or playing contracts and we rely on our income from SA Rugby. But with an Eastern Cape team we can offer a rugby future in this region for young players and a franchise around which the community and business can rally.”
The Spears concept has been replaced by a more natural process of developing teams in the Eastern Cape to the required standard.
The two unions are awaiting the final go-ahead from SAERU, a decision likely to be rubber-stamped at the end of October.
South Western Districts were invited to remain part of a Southern and Eastern Cape franchise concept, but opted to pursue their own path. The Eagles are in third place on the First Division standings, behind the Griffons on points difference only.
The Eagles and Griffons play each other in the final round of league matches in George on Saturday, with the winner going on to play in the year-end promotion-relegation matches.Tweet