Let’s get this out in the open… the decision yesterday to give the Kings a year in Super Rugby at the expense of the Lions was a disaster, but probably not for the reason that many people think.
Allow me to build my case here, if you will. Rugby, in the professional era, is an arms race. Just look at the way the Bulls behave when recruiting at junior level and you’ll see it plainly – winning this war is all about building the right structures and attracting as many good players as you can. No team can compete at any of the meaningful levels of this game without attracting and retaining top talent, both on the field and in the coaching box. Players (and coaches), ultimately, are drawn by the prospect of higher honours and know that they need to be playing in top competitions in order to gain the exposure they’ll need in order to push for national selection, better contracts, sponsorships, lucrative book deals and a cushy SuperSport commentary job once they retire. It’s the way of the world.
Super Rugby participation, in other words, is the carrot that attracts good players to a team and in the South African context especially, it is simply impossible to attract anyone but a journeyman or wide-eyed youngster desperate for game time if you can’t offer that incentive. Those who naively put forward the argument about the Kings not deserving a Super Rugby spot on “rugby reasons alone” (whatever those are) NEED to be aware of the fact that the playing fields are hardly level and have not been for some years. How do you expect the Kings to have assembled a squad capable of competing at Super Ruby level without players of the required calibre to compete at Super Rugby level? Turning that on its head, why would any player of Super Rugby calibre sign for the Kings without a cast-iron guarantee that said franchise would be playing Super Rugby? Its a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation.
What about the Lions, though? What do they deserve? I feel for their fans (although to be honest, if more people had been willing to stand up and be counted during the dark times, perhaps things in Joburg wouldn’t have got so bad) but cannot honestly say that, with any fibre of my being, I believe that they deserve anything less than this forced relegation, after the frankly diabolical way that the entire union has performed and behaved in Super Rugby ever since being given an individual franchise some years back.
No, it’s not that I feel that the Lions should have been allowed to stay; yesterday’s decision was a disaster because it happened too late to give the Kings any realistic chance of assembling a competitive squad ahead of next year’s competition. The double-whammy is the ludicrous awarding of Super Rugby status to the Kings for only one year, a move frankly guaranteed to ensure that they fail. It takes time to build anything at this level – the Lions have been afforded five years or more and haven’t got it right. Why should the Kings be expected to do it in just one?
Mark my words, this shaky compromise aimed at keeping everybody happy will only serve to destroy both the Lions and the Kings and I predict many years of yo-yoing at the bottom end of the SA Super Rugby conference. Ask yourself this, in closing – which top player would be prepared to commit their future to either the Lions or the Kings, under this system?Tweet