How can the Kings survive this wreck?
Let me say it bluntly, it was a wise decision and the responsible thing to do when South African Rugby pulled the plug on the Southern Kings a week ago.
Yes, it probably was not the most popular decision, but they had no alternative.
Disturbing and emotional as it is for the players and their families, keeping the Kings alive and letting them play in the upcoming Currie Cup would have been tantamount to throwing money into a bottomless pit.
In fact, a well-placed official close to the franchise told me in a conversation that SA Rugby should have pulled the plug back in 2015, when the Kings went belly-up for the first time.
SA Rugby poured millions – in fact about ZAR35-million a year – for three years, into the franchise during their second stint in Super Rugby.
As the adage goes: ‘Hindsight is 20-20 vision.’
“When you see you are speeding towards a train smash, don’t continue to contract players at a rate of knots,” the official said.
Last week’s decision to pull the plug was clearly based on the fact that they had no foreseeable income and playing in the Currie Cup was not a viable or sustainable option.
The decision has obviously kicked off an exodus of some sorts.
Loose forward Elrigh Louw has signed with the Bulls, lock and captain John-Charles Astle is heading to French second-division club Rouen Normandie, loose forward Thembelani Bholi has joined Griquas, while Bobby de Wee and Lusanda Badiyana are also in talks with French clubs.
It has been confirmed to @rugby365com that the Kings’ management will not stand in the way of any players who want to negotiate contracts elsewhere.
While they would like to retain some key players, losing a marquee player like Louw is an indication that players may have lost faith in the franchise and looking at the exit door.
It is also an indication that management has taken a massive dosage of reality and accepted that for them the bell has tolled.
History tells us the top 10 players at a franchise are always in demand and will be on the first available flight out of town – especially when a franchise crashes and burns like this.
The Kings could be left with about 15 to 20 players from the current squad if/when they want to start playing again.
However, as it stands, they don’t have the talent and resources to put a team in the field.
Of course, they should be able to find enough willing bodies if a competition opens up, but the quality of the team will be questionable.
It has been their problem since their exit from Super Rugby, with the player/staff turnover simply too big to allow them to be competitive.
The other big issue is their financial model.
Their dependence on government support (from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality) makes their finances volatile and is not a sustainable model.
It is always linked to politics and as we saw with the infamous Nick Mallett saga in July last year, when politically aligned firebrands start spewing their emotive claptrap the sponsors headed for the hills and potential equity partners are few and far between.
The main franchises – the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers – have big commercial/equity partners and deliver value for money to those investors.
The Kings’ biggest problem is their dependency on government funding.
The other problem with the Kings is that the initial enthusiasm from the fans was comparable with other franchises, but the decline in results and the political meddling not only chased away potential sponsors, but saw the fan base decline drastically.
The challenge now is how does the Eastern Province Rugby Football Union turn this all around?
How do they sell this ‘dream’ to sponsors and investors?
We know limited spaces are available in European competitions – given that only four SA franchises will be playing in the north – the Kings may soon be limited to domestic competitions and that will result in an even smaller income stream.
As one insider said recently, Super Rugby looks more and more like a kite that’s flown.
If we look back at the events of the last decade in the Eastern Cape, then the realists will admit that this may well be the death knell sounding for this once proud union.
They’ve had their chances and even the failure of the ‘Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World‘ is a clear indication that the appetite for the game may not be there to make it a successful professional entity.
I want to finish off with these two questions: Did the Kings’ political games finally catch up with them? Can they start with a clean slate?