It is reasonably clear by now that the Lions will be the team most impacted by the Kings’ inclusion in SupeRugby. Lions fans are not happy with this for obvious reasons but to be fair to all involved this has been coming for a long time. For many years now we have argued this on every rugby forum available to us.
It started with the Southern Spears under McKeever that turned into the Southern Kings under Watson. SARU tried to postpone their inclusion for as long as possible but cannot do so anymore. The Kings have legal and political backing, and by many accounts large financial backing also. Rumours abound about talks with some big names and big money in the background. Those close to the Kings talk about buying a star team like we haven’t seen in SA. Sounds like Gumede when he tested the waters at the Lions … “Manchester United of rugby”. We’ll see (and my advice to Kings fans is to take such talk with lots of salt, especially if Gumede is involved).
Where to for the Lions? The options are as follows:
(1) Relegation. Sit out for at least one season and rebuilt the squad. Some players might leave as I’m sure some contracts have SupeRugby guarantees built in. It is up to the players to stay or go in such cases. We all know that some should go and others we hope would stay. Mitchell indicated that he will stay on and not abandon the union/franchise. Good. I like Mitchell and believe, like in the Currie Cup last year, he can do amazing things when he’s got the players.
(2) Merger. I’ve made my preference for this arrangement known all over the internet. I proposed the Wildcats concept where the Lions join the Cheetahs to create a super franchise. Yes, I know, it didn’t work so well before, but, we did play in two semi-finals under Mains, the best any of the teams involved ever did. The money allocation killed the unions involved at the time and this is where it can be done better – much better – this time. As I’ve said many time, if SARU and the franchises can come to an agreement to divide the broadcasting cake into six pieces instead of five the Wildcats can get 2 slices that will keep the Cheetahs and Lions on a sound financial footing. Both will be able to retain players and staff for the Currie Cup. My proposal is then also for the Pumas to be realigned with the Bulls. Many accuse me of driving Mark Keohane’s perceived Kings agenda here. Not so – at all. I propose this idea mainly because it is as clear as daylight after so many years of tears that neither Joburg nor Bloemfontein can on their own win the Super Series. Neither teams have the depth to deal with setbacks. Why participate if you never stand a realistic chance to win the tournament? Aren’t we all gatvol to get excited about a new season just to be let down again when reality hits. Reality is a bitch.
If the Lions can get a huge money injection soon all the dynamics will change. But what are the chances of anyone with big money investing in the Lions? The 49% ownership rule makes rugby a poor investment. If teams could be privatised it will make a huge difference, but I can’t help but expect the Lions to be seen as a bargain hunt target in such a scenario when the mighty Bulls sits on our doorstep offering an investor so much more. That we sit with such a strong and well supported Bulls setup on our doorstep is a huge dilemma for the Lions. One of the consequences is that any rugby support on offer from Soweto already sits with the Bulls. The Bulls is suffocating us and they’re almost done.
This domination by the Bulls necessitates the creation of a counter balance in the North. Thát, as I see it is the Wildcats. The Wildcats will attract sponsors more than the Lions and the Cheetahs do on their own. The Wildcats will be the alternative from the North where sponsors have a huge captive market. Give those that do not want to support the Bulls a real alternative. I believe the market is ready for that. Look at the empty stadiums in Joburg and Bloem. The Lions and Cheetahs have a poor record in SupeRugby and the Cats failed for reasons that are well understood. Go for a new brand and let go of the old paradigms. Yes, the geographic challenge is real, but it is not insurmountable. The money is the big issue, and that SARU can fix … and they should come to the party considering their huge stake in the mess we sit with.
I say: Bring on the Wildcats. Let’s build a new franchise with new branding and new ideas. Let’s build a franchise able to compete with the big boys and with a realistic chance of winning the competition. I agree with Simon Borchardt … bring Nick Mallett in, but do so as Director of Rugby. We need a strong character like him. Use Mitch and Naka as coaches. Mitch already indicated that he will work for such an arrangement. I see awesome potential here. I’m willing to let go of the Lions in SupeRugby to gain something with much more going for it (and me). Will Free State bite? Not if the money is not right. They may well argue that they are doing well on their own. If winning here and there but never being a real threat for the champions title is well enough then they will be correct, but that is mediocre thinking. We need a champion, one that can take injury hits and still remain the champion.
We received this article from our man KAT.