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Rebuilding the ruins

When I say it can't get much more depressed, I am not making references to the SA government. I am speaking about the state of the game played with an oval ball.

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The Springboks finished a distant third last year (behind New Zealand and Australia); they lost their coach and still have no idea when the new mentor will be appointed; the South African Rugby Union had to jump in and take over the running of the Southern Kings (with a bankrupt Eastern Province Rugby (Pty) Ltd still unable to pay salaries); the Stormers were dumped by Eddie Jones and then, in turn, dumped John Mitchell.

No doubt the foundations of the game in this country is shaky, while the walls have started crumbling in dramatic fashion in some areas (read Kings/Eastern Province).

The positives are that there is stability in Lions territory, the Sharks are an unknown factor (with no major upheavals, yet), while there will be optimism for the Cheetahs and Bulls (who both start with new Super Rugby coaches).

So how do we rebuild the ruins that is South African rugby?

Unlike transformation, it has to start at the top.

Leadership builds the foundations of the game and SARU must set the tone.

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SARU, despite what some maverick agent and wannabe former official are spouting in the media, had to step in and take over the running of the Southern Kings.

I have it on good authority that EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd – the organisation originally tasked with running SA's sixth Super Rugby franchise – is as much as ZAR100-million in the red. Some of that relates to unpaid taxes.

That would explain why they can no longer pay salaries, because the creditors are beginning to demand repayment. It will also explain why the benefactors have disappeared – it is like pouring your money into a bottomless pit.

And that is why SARU had to step in and take the 'franchise' (read Super Rugby team) away from EP Rugby. The ZAR28-million in television rights money would not have gone to the players and administrative costs, but would have been distributed equally between all the creditors. The portion that would have reached the Southern Kings franchise would have been minimal.

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I often criticize SARU, but on this occasion they have to be applauded. They would have been slapped with a massive lawsuit by SANZAAR if the Kings failed to meet their obligations.

Regardless of your feelings towards SARU, they were left with no alternative but to take control and protect their own 'brand' and rights.

Of course there is still the not so small matter of 'unveiling' another 20 players. Those are likely to come from the fringes of the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers, Griquas and Pumas.

Griquas and the Pumas were both ready to step in and become the sixth franchise if the player stand-off in Port Elizabeth had continued for much longer in December.

The announcement of the additional Kings players may well happen this week.

The Stormers have had their own issues, after the rather public humiliation of Eddie Jones walking out on them two weeks after being unveiled.

That was followed by the John Mitchell debacle – when Western Province Rugby (Pty) Ltd President Thelo Wakefield and CEO Rob Wagner (apparently on the advise of officials from Gauteng and former Lions players in the Western Cape) turned their backs on Director of Rugby Gert Smal.

Regardless of the spin Wakefield puts on this and the positive PR they put out, there is no doubt the undertones at the Newlands boardroom will be of a spiteful nature this year.

That is going to heap pressure and expectations on new coach Robbie Fleck and the players.

It is not the ideal start to a new season for a team that already battles to convince a substantial portion of the Western Cape's population that supporting the Stormers is better than wearing the colours of the Crusaders and New Zealand.

At least they are in control of their own issues, despite the rather public PR gaffe surrounding the Jones/Mitchell saga.

SARU, despite fighting fires on several fronts, are also – mostly – in control of issues.

However, they too run the risk of public humiliation over the appointment of a new Bok coach.

First they courted Alister Coetzee in a vigorous fashion – to appease the political animals hell-bent on changing the shade of the Springboks' Green and Gold.

Then there was an about turn, with overtures to New Zealander Wayne Smith.

Maybe it had something to do with the tranquillity of the Christmas season, but it has gone quiet on that front. Unless SARU has been given the cold shoulder by the Kiwi and are returning to the drawing board.

There is no doubt the 'transformation demands' placed on the new coach is going to make his life even more complicated than any of his predecessors.

Not only must he win at all cost (or win the next World Cup if SARU boss Oregan Hoskins is to be believed), but he has to select a more 'representative' team as a matter of priority.

He will also have the poser of how many (if any) overseas-based players he will use for his team.

And then he must beat the most settled and professional team in the world, the All Blacks.

Not a walk in the park.

I was going to talk about the positives for local teams and fans, but then realised I have already written a 'book' and I have not even spoken about the bankrupt EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd (a fully owned subsidiary of EP Rugby Union).

It has to be remembered that not having paid players for the past four months and faced with civil action as a result, the EP Kings will be hard-pressed to feature a team in the revamped Currie Cup competition this year.

You have to feel for the players left behind in Port Elizabeth, some naive young men who were confused by various parties with ulterior motives.

They are faced with a bleak future, because at this stage – even if they win in a civil case – will receive no compensation from EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd, as it is little more than an empty shell.

I can assure you we have not heard the last of this apocalyptical mess.

By Jan de Koning

@King365ed

@rugby365com

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