URC boss shuts door on Cheetahs' dream
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Cheetahs’ plans of returning to the international stage will remain just a dream.
Earlier this month, Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie said that the South African Rugby Union was in advance talks to return to cross-border competition, with plans to be finalised by the end of the month.
Fourie suggested that the Cheetahs, who were booted out of Super Rugby and the Pro14 (now United Rugby Championship) by SARU, will join a new European competition – a type of a URC ‘B Division’.
Speaking to reporters during a virtual round table URC CEO Martin Anayi, however, has dismissed the claim.
“It’s not on the cards,” Anayi said when asked about the URC ‘B Division’ plans.
“We have a real job on our hands,” he said, adding: “[It is] to make the URC as good as it can possibly be and we are getting there.
“So, I think, not for the present,” he said of the URC ‘B Division’ idea.
“We do love the Cheetahs, by the way,” Anayi stated.
“They are a big part of our history, and if we can help them in any way to find a competition that does work for them, you can rest assured that we would do that.
“But [there are] no plans for the URC ‘second division’ at the moment.”
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‘A closed league’
When asked about the possibility of promotion/relegation to be introduced to the URC, in order to strengthen the competition and allow other teams like Cheetahs to enter, Anayi said: “We are just focusing on the 16 teams [currently in the competition].
“My job is to help those teams who are struggling to get better – whether it is through funding [or other means].
“However, relegation is not on the cards.”
He added: “We’ve got contracts with each of our teams, so it’s a closed league practically.
“It’s there to make sure that these teams can be sustainable and can invest in getting better without the fear of being relegated into an unknown competition.
“It’s a little bit different to the French Top 14 with the Pro D2 or the English Premiership with the Championship.
“There isn’t an established division below us so there’s nowhere to go for those teams to be relegated.”
The latest admission by Anayi is certainly a big blow for the Cheetahs, who have been given a ‘raw deal’ in the last couple of years.
In 2018 the Free State side was axed from Super Rugby after SANZAAR’s decision to reduce the number of teams.
Consequently, they joined the expanded Northern Hemisphere venture – from Pro12 to Pro14 – prior to the 2017–18 season.
In 2020 SARU revealed that the Cheetahs and Southern Kings are to be axed from the Pro14 – with the Lions, Bulls, Sharks and Stormers moving north to join the expanded 16-team URC.
The Cheetahs are currently competing only in South Africa’s premier domestic competition – the Currie Cup.
They are the only unbeaten team in the 2022 season.