Do the Kings have a Pro14 'guarantee'?
SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com contributor Yolulwe Qoshe sat down with veteran prop Schalk Ferreira to chat about the recent upheavals in Port Elizabeth and the Southern Kings’ future.
Amidst the growing chorus of broadcasts about the Southern Kings and Cheetahs getting axed from the Pro14 – to make room for the inclusion of the Lions, Bulls, Sharks and Stormers in an expanded European competition – the Kings players had to deal with yet another financial crisis.
In April the players received their salaries 10 days late and in June SA Rugby assumed management control of the franchise to stop the financial rot that set in while the oddly-named Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World was in charge.
It is fair that the Kings and their parent body, the Eastern Province Rugby Union, are no strangers to turmoil and controversy.
The 36-year-old stalwart, Ferreira, has certainly seen his share of boardroom imbroglios.
Even with a two-year stint in France (Toulouse 2013 to 2015), he has featured in 90-odd games for the Eastern Cape outfit.
“Where do I even start?” Ferreira said, when asked by @rugby365com about the ongoing uncertainty.
“The Kings have always been in turmoil. It’s always been ups and downs when it comes to ownership and funding.
“These past few months have certainly been difficult.”
He revealed that the players are often kept in the dark about the boardroom developments – which was the case in the build-up to SA Rugby’s dramatic ‘rescue act’ in June.
“At the end of the day, we just want to play – that’s where we live and die,” Ferreira said.
He went on to detail the current concerns around the uncertainty of the Kings’ future.
“It is the thought of [having to go on] a possible job hunt [again],” the veteran prop told @rugby365, adding: “Are they going to keep us in the Pro14 or are they going to kick us out?
“Are the players going to get re-signed?
“Does the fact that you have a contract even guarantee that you will be paid?”
Ferreira, who is also the MyPlayers representative at the Kings, said he has been bombarded by questions from his teammates – seeking clarity regarding their future.
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There was a great sense of relief when SA Rugby regained control from the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World.
“To be honest, the players are glad that SA Rugby has taken over,” he said, adding: “I think SA Rugby gives us much more stability and more funding.
“The Pro14 is more lucrative for SA Rugby to invest in, so keeping us there makes much more sense from a player’s point of view and we want to stay in the PRO14.”
The Kings are certainly positive about their future in Europe, with Ferreira revealing that a SA Rugby representative told an EPRU meeting last week that they plan to keep their promise of retaining the Southern Kings in the tournament for at least another two-years.
However, the more immediate future remains uncertain.
“We still don’t know when we are going to start [playing again],” he said.
“It looks like we might play a double round of Currie Cup. The question is, are we going to be ready for that?”
The players have a few other questions they are wrestling with.
“Are they going to keep Robbie Kempson as coach? Are they going to keep the same coaching staff?”
Ferreira, who has experienced two ownership changes at the Kings, admitted it is not getting easier to deal with the turmoil.
“The first one, in 2013, was really tough for me. We had so many star players, who went on to play at international level – the likes of Cornel Du Preez [Scotland] and Wimpie van der Walt [Japan]. There were just so many great guys that we had but lost.”
He believes that the union’s failures at boardroom level have always been a hindering factor, whenever things started looking promising for the team on the field of play.
“Every time the playing squad is building onto something, the boardroom politics cause it to fall to pieces,” he said.
“I think I have lived through four coaches during my two stints at the Kings and every time a new coach comes, he brings a new squad and a new culture.”
He stressed the importance of consistency and security, saying that every team that has been able to build a successful squad over a period of time, did so on the back of continuity.
“If you look at the successful and established unions, consistency and building a dynasty is a big deal. Here we buy young players, build them up and they get bought to make an impact elsewhere else.
“Look at the Lions, under Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin. They had the same squad for about three years and they are still reaping the rewards – even though they took some shots in the first two years.
“Even Saracens have shown that you need to stick to the same squad for a while. I just want to see some longer contracts. That’s my wish for the Kings. Secure young players who can stay at the union to build a culture.”
He also reminisces about the 2017 Super Rugby squad that he captained and thinks of what could’ve been, had that unit been retained.
“We had a lot of quality players – like Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi, world cup winners now. We beat both the Bulls and the Jaguares away from home, but we couldn’t keep those players.
“We have since also lost [coach] Deon Davids and then we had to restart again with Robbie [Kempson, as coach] – who I have a lot of respect for.”
He added the players are waiting with bated breath to see what direction SA Rugby is going to take at the union – how involved they will be and how they plan to sort out the current mess.
“I’m not sure, but I think there is about a third of the squad that is out of contract. There are [some] juniors waiting to see if they will be re-signed.
“I don’t know where the power lies in terms of contracting, is it [with] Robbie [Kempson]? Who could provide the much-needed consistency? Is it Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby and do they have different ideas?
“Again it’s just about consistency, which builds team culture, and having the same squad for three years,” he added.
Ferreira revealed that the boardroom issues have also taken their toll on Kempson, who also wears the Director of Rugby hat, to go with his caretaker coaching position.
Although he can’t speak for all the players, Ferreira wishes Kempson can stay on and be allowed to focus solely on his Director of Rugby position.
“If you ask five different players about coach Robbie, I think you would get five different answers. However, for me personally, I enjoy working with him, because he knows the Eastern Cape, its schools and the young guys. For me as a prop, I’ve learnt a lot from him and how he coaches scrums.
“I rate him highly and would love to see him stay involved. I don’t think he was meant to be the head coach. I don’t even think he wanted to be. He just wanted to be a coaching director and that’s the role I see him in.
“He is cool and calm under fire and can manage different coaches. However, I just think all the pressure put on him, having to juggle different roles, was tough on him this season.”
Although he is currently without a contract, the former Under-19 World Championships winner confirmed that he is in talks to re-sign at the Kings.
“I am not looking for anything more than two years,” he said, adding: “I have had my time.
“I’ve been through it all with the Kings – the ups and downs. I still love the union and for me, it isn’t what you see on the news.
“I also firmly believe in the ability of the Eastern Cape to produce players, especially black players.
“Rugby is in the roots here and it’s not forced on any kid.
“We also have to keep the province in the bigger frame and the Pro14, for me, is a big part of that.”
By Yolulwe Qoshe