THERE was joy mixed with relief in Eastern Province rugby after South African Rugby bosses voted at a special meeting in Johannesburg on Thursday to include the Kings in an enlarged eight-team Currie Cup Premier Division next season.
Delighted EP rugby boss Cheeky Watson said the move would further strengthen the development taking place in his union, and would provide a platform for young, talented players to perform.
“This is one of the happiest days of my rugby career, and perhaps even better than our inclusion in Super Rugby, because we have been entrenched in the Premier Division for two years,” Watson said.
“It has been such a long fight that at the moment I am just feeling a huge sense of relief.
“Celebration will be putting my feet up and having a nice dinner with my wife. It has been night-and-day work ahead of the meeting.
“We had to work right up until the bitter end, but we were able to pull it through and we got 27 out of 29 votes,” Watson said.
Asked who went against the proposal, Watson refused to comment.
However, reliable sources inside SA Rugby indicated that the two Border delegates were believed to have voted against the new proposal.
The new structure will ensure that the six “anchor” unions of South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises (the Blue Bulls, Sharks, Western Province, Free State Cheetahs, Golden Lions and EP Kings) will be guaranteed their places in the Currie Cup for the next two seasons.
“We have always maintained that there is a clear plan in place for the region, despite the Southern Kings relegation ,” Watson said.
He said EP Rugby had already provided opportunities for young local talent developed through the Kings Academy, creating local role models such as Sergeal Petersen, Siviwe Soyizwapi and Aidon Davis.
“The fact is that the Eastern Province Rugby Union has the potential to truly transform the entire South African rugby landscape, through developing our local talent and providing them with the platforms to showcase their talent.
“We have the structures to develop these players to be the best professional athletes they can be, and we have the opportunities to provide these individuals with exposure to top-flight rugby over the next few years,” said Watson.
Watson said that through this approach, when the Southern Kings again took up their rightful place in Super Rugby in 2016, the team would be able to showcase the talent that has come from the region.
“This is great news for the region as it will help us maintain the momentum created through the Southern Kings’ Super Rugby participation last year,” Charl Crous, EP Rugby CE, said.
“We are glad to say that the vote today clearly shows that the unions have the best interests of South African rugby at heart,” he said.
“We have said previously that there is a hunger for top-flight rugby in the Eastern Cape and the amazing crowds that attended the Super Rugby games at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last year have shown that this is the case,” Crous said.
A round robin competition between the remaining seven unions in the Currie Cup First Division will take place after the Vodacom Cup, to determine the eighth team that will join them in the Premier Division.
The meeting also approved a resolution to do away with the Vodacom Super Rugby promotion and relegation mechanism. The effect will be that the current five franchises are entrenched for the 2015 season.
“It has been a thorough process with several false starts, but we have reached a decision which is ultimately good for all our members and South African rugby,” Oregan Hoskins, the president of SA Rugby, said. “It ensures all 14 provinces have an opportunity to play in the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division, while ensuring that our Vodacom Super Rugby franchises have a stable environment in which to prepare.
“The new qualifying competition also fills a space in the middle of the season for our nonfranchise teams.
“It also addresses the anomaly that we have been driving hard for a number of years for the Kings’ inclusion in Super Rugby, and yet we do not have a place for them in our premier domestic competition.
The approved format is:
• Premier Division composition: The six franchise “anchor” teams plus the Pumas (qualifiers in 2013) and the winner of the qualifying round, to be played after the Vodacom Cup final in June and July.
• The teams will be divided into two sections on 2013 log positions: Section X (Western Province, Golden Lions, Blue Bulls, EP Kings) and Section Y (Cell C Sharks, Toyota Free State, Pumas, Qualifier).
• The teams will play home and away within their sections, followed by a single cross-conference round before semifinals and final.
• The qualifying competition will be contested by Griqualand West, Leopards, SWD Eagles, Boland Kavaliers, Griffons, Border Bulldogs and Valke. The teams will play a single round, with each playing three home and three away matches.