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SARU v franchises: Four key points

UPDATE: It may not be their ‘High Noon at the OK Corral’ moment, but the South African Rugby Union and the four main franchises are set for a ‘showdown’ of considerable significance on Thursday.


Weekend media reports focused on just two points.

The first is disharmony over the millions demanded by SARU for the rights to host Test matches this year.

The second issue is the ‘transparency’ – or rather lack of it – surrounding the proposed equity deal with the Ackerley Sports Group, owned by brothers Ted and Christopher Ackerley.

However, there are two other equally significant bones of contention – the famed PONI contracts and SARU’s conversion from ‘associate’ member status to full membership of the United Rugby Championship.

This will come to a head at a meeting in Johannesburg on Thursday – where SARU plans to outline the ASG equity deal and hopefully get permission from the 14 domestic unions to move forward with it.

The four franchises – Stormers (despite being under SARU administration), Lions, Bulls and Sharks – are planning to add the three other issues to the ‘agenda’.


This dissensus will be a precursor to the awards ceremony, also in Johannesburg, where the country’s best players will be rewarded for their achievements in 2023.

The Test match guarantee dispute has been simmering since the foursome sent a letter to SARU some three weeks ago – making it clear they have sought ‘legal opinion’ on the matter.

SARU is asking for ZAR85-million in guarantees for the rights to host Test matches – ZAR20-million for the All Black Tests at Ellis Park and Cape Town, ZAR15-million for the Ireland Tests at Loftus Versfeld and Kings Par, while the Pumas are expected to fork out ZAR10 million to host a Test against Argentina and the Cheetahs ZAR5-million to host Portugal.


@rugby365com understands that while the big four are forming a united front, there is no clarity on the positions of the Pumas and Cheetahs.

They likely feel the same and would join in the ‘protest’ movement.

Weekend reports suggested the franchises are considering simply not paying the fees that SARU is demanding for the rights to host Test matches.

However, @rugby365com‘s information is that they are likely to take a reconciliatory stance at Thursday’s meeting, despite the assertive tones of their earlier letter.

One source said it is all about ‘transparency’ around the processes.

There is a difference of opinion of whether what SARU is claiming and the Test-match hosting model falls outside of the budget model that was put in place in 2020.

Under that model no hosting fees were required.

SARU’s position is that the 2020 model expired at the end of 2023, but the franchises claim the ‘status quo’ was retained.

The equity deal will also be a topic for some interesting debate, as the franchises want to get some clarity around the process and how it relates to SARU’s funding model – which also includes the Test-match allocations.

At least one of the franchises has previously raised concerns over the PONI contract model, as it limits their use of Springboks.

They need clarity to adjust their ‘recruitment approach’ if Springboks will be taken out of circulation for months (rest periods) as is currently the case.

High-profile Springboks may no longer be an option and franchises are already leaning towards seasoned fringe players to fill their rosters.

The distribution of additional funds, when SARU becomes a full member of the URC, is another topic the franchises would like to discuss.

Currently, the SA franchises don’t get the same funding as their rivals in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.

SA teams fly economy class and often stop over somewhere en route to their match destinations, while their opponents fly of first-class direct flights.

There is more than meets the eye in the discord between SARU and the franchises.


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