Tough stance by SA Rugby required

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Super Rugby on 27 Jun 2011 at 14:56
Tagged with : , ,

For rugby in South Africa to remain strong, SA Rugby needs to take a tough stance against its own unions before it looks to improve its standing within SANZAR.

The topic is not a new one, but something that is raised yet again in recent times given the expansion and duration of Super Rugby this year, and an even longer schedule in place from next year.

This has put SA Rugby at a cross-roads once again to re-structure it’s own domestic competitions to accommodate Super Rugby.

Criticism of the competition and its current structures can be found on just about every single newspaper or online news and sports blog site. Inevitably the voices of concern increases both in volume and numbers as the competition or how it is structured sees teams from one country eliminated due to what is perceived as an ‘unfair advantage’.

We can crow as much as we like about all of this, but the one thing we will have to make peace with is that the organisers will always follow the cash-cow in professional rugby, and Super Rugby is that cash-cow today.

For this very reason calls to shorten the competition, or decrease the amount of teams taking part will prove fruitless, as it will never happen. In fact, from 2013, expect even more teams to be added.

So just what can South African rugby do to prevent we are not killing the goose that lays the golden egg?

First and foremost, SA Rugby as an organisation will need to take a tough stance with its member unions. In a day and age where money drives the game and indeed the future of the game, you cannot afford to bail individuals or unions out all the time especially when they are obviously incapable of running their organisation.

In simple terms this means that irrespective of who or what you are, or even where you are from or located regionally, you first have to get your house in order before you are afforded the ‘right’ to play in the elite or top competitions. This means becoming self-sustainable as a union financially first and foremost before you are allowed a slice of the elite pie.

Not all of this is solely dependent on the unions however, SA Rugby themselves will not only need to lead by example as the governing body, but also forfeit some of the ‘power’ they currently enjoy through ownership.

For years, and still today, SA Rugby as a whole and organisation is being paralysed by political power struggles not only in the corridors of SA Rugby, but by the power afforded at a board or decision making level to small role players (read unions) which contributes very little to nothing towards the sustained (financial) success of the game.

Now I can already see individuals involved in those unions in one way or another shaking their heads with my last statement probably citing my absolutely ignorance to the fact of how important they are to the game in this country and what they contribute – but understand my statement in context or in full… No-where am I suggesting we get rid of unions or clubs in smaller, rural or less economically rich or sustainable areas, what I am suggesting is that we overhaul the structures under which they operate, and who operates (manages) them.

Each of these unions are extremely valuable for the sustained success of rugby union in this country, what we need to allow each union to do, is determine this very value, or their value, themselves.

Regionally South African rugby can be divided up into 6 regions or franchises all of whom already operate in some way or form as a franchise within their own rights. They are the Bulls (Northern and Eastern Gauteng regions including Limpopo and Mpumalanga), the Lions (Southern and Western Gauteng regions), Cheetahs (Central and Northern Cape regions), Sharks (East Coast, KwaZulu Natal regions), Kings (Southern and Eastern Cape regions) and Stormers (Western Cape and Boland region).

All 14 of South Africa’s current unions are also divided up into these regions who control and manage the clubs and schools registered with them or which falls under them, and makes up the hundreds of thousands of registered rugby players South Africa has. To kill anyone of them off, will mean killing off the talent or player numbers each of them contribute to South African rugby.

The problem we face today, in the professional game, is the reliance of each of these unions (and who and what they are responsible for) on SA Rugby, and SA Rugby reliance on them.

It is quite simply an impossible task for SA Rugby to effectively manage each and every one of these organisations and ensure they sustain themselves, but this is also largely brought about by SA Rugby’s refusal to relinquish ownership within these unions.

Currently, no private entity or organisation is allowed more than 49% owenrship of any union, which in turn means that they have no executive powers within that organisation. Therefore, it is as much the performances or non-performances of these unions individually as the insistence of SA Rugby or SARU to hold onto power that contributes to their failures as professional organisations.

SA Rugby simply has no option but to allow private ownership within rugby unions or franchises if we are to see any change.

The mindset of SA Rugby and SARU needs to change from one of ownership where they effectively ‘own’ the unions, to one of governing body where they oversee and act as a watchdog looking after the interests of the game at lower levels, all of which contributes to the eventual success at National level.

‘Ownership’, and therefore responsibility of each union, franchise and effectively region within in the South African rugby landscape will become that of the region or franchise themselves. Their success both as a professional company and rugby organisation will be solely determined on how they manage themselves.

This will include becoming financially self-sustainable, as well as developing their own local resources (schools and clubs), to ensure their participation in elite competitions like Super Rugby following the minimum guidelines set out by SA Rugby for qualification.

SA Rugby’s role will therefore be concentrated, and streamlined to focus on and professionally manage the game at national levels or teams and players within South Africa at Springbok level, as-well as ensuring each region, franchise and union conforms to the minimum participation and qualification guidelines as set out in its constitution and participation rules.

Of course the biggest obstacle that we will face in South Africa to accomplish this, will be to rid ourselves of the freeloaders within the system benefiting from its amateurish and political structures who will fight tooth and nail to hold onto power (and money).


  • I think if the English RFU could do things over again they’d opt for a s/hemisphere approach where much of the control lies with the central body and the clubs are dependent on the central body. This would have eliminated much of the ongoing problems they currently experience with clubs and would have helped regulate the flow of s/h players into euro rugby.

    Yes encourage and put systems in place to promote financial wellness but don’t give your unions too much self-determination or it’s bound to backfire at international level when the unions no longer feel obliged to co-operate with SA Rugby.

  • Comment 1, posted at 27.06.11 15:16:09 by beet Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • As I understand things, most unions currently contribute close to zero when it comes to schools development as such. But they are role players in development in rural and disadvantaged communities.

  • Comment 2, posted at 27.06.11 15:22:29 by beet Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, regarding the “longer” S15 next year.

    While the season will end in August next year the number of games will still be the same. The lengthening of the season is due to S15 taking a break in June and July for winter tours (England come to SA) and the Tri Nations.

    Non Bok players will have a “break” of sorts during this period.

    I can’t however see the unions being happy to see their non Boks kicking back cooling their heels. I expect some compulsory cross section friendlies or a few CC games to be thrown in there, which is sad really because the player could do with a break.

  • Comment 3, posted at 27.06.11 15:56:03 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • I’m not sure I agree with your point that unions should become self supporting as their own legal entities ”overseen” by SA Rugby etc. their focus will become the players are ours and we are not prepared to release them for Springbok duty for ‘risk to injury’ current ‘Super 15’ ‘ Currie Cup’ comp, etc etc. This problem has surfaced in the Uk with soccer primarily where England has top footballers but due to clubs refusing to release them they are not able to put together decent squads. I recall the England RFU trying to put together a squad to tour NZ and Australasia a few years ago. the result was a disaster. A third rate team travelled down under and smashed 100 something 10.Of course the English coach at the time was recorded as saying ‘it was a highly constructive tour and we learnt a lot.’ Ja right. 🙄 🙄

  • Comment 4, posted at 27.06.11 16:44:41 by Caratacus Reply

  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 3) :

    Can you imagine the impact of this break?!

    Teams who are in top form one week, will come two months later and take another 2-3 weeks to get going.

    The quality of rugby will just worsen.

  • Comment 5, posted at 27.06.11 20:21:39 by Richard Ferguson Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Administrator
    Richard Ferguson
  • The answer to the too long super13 plus the lions and rebels is divisions. Let the top 10 teams play in the premier division and the rest in lower divisions and ad relegation matches. If they do this the best will always play the best, the format will be shorter and they can ad as many teams as they want by just adding divisions. But they won’t do this cause money talks

  • Comment 6, posted at 27.06.11 21:30:26 by Mutley Reply
  • @Caratacus (Comment 4) :

    The RFU is their own worst enemy. I cannot see how this can not be properly managed by a governing body if all the checks have been done and boxes ticked.

    Quite simply, SA Rugby or the governing body control all the competitions, from Craven through age group, Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Bok rugby.

    If you do not comply by the guidelines set out, you get kicked out – simple.

  • Comment 7, posted at 28.06.11 08:46:48 by Morné Reply

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