Johannesburg – Lions fans called it a triumph in defeat at Ellis Park on Saturday. It was nothing of the sort.
Both the Lions and Kings lost on Saturday because, not until the South African Rugby Union or Sanzar can find a place for both teams in Super Rugby will there be a winner.
The Kings, despite finishing last in the SA Conference this season and being relegated after the two-legged play-off against the Lions, defied the odds to produce a far better showing in their debut season than anyone would have imagined.
Alan Solomons and all those fans who packed the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this season are 100 per cent right … the Eastern Cape has to be part of the South African rugby landscape. But so, too, must the Lions be part of Super Rugby.
The Kings will be hit hard by not being involved next year – Solomons has already departed and several players will be heading to other unions. And I’m not only talking about the slightly more experienced men, but a bunch of youngsters, too, like Shane Gates. With no guarantee of Super Rugby there’s no reason to stay.
Saturday’s result at Ellis Park – a 23-18 win by the Kings – will also hit the Lions, despite them returning to the big-time. The fact the Lions lost to the Kings at a packed Ellis Park may just have made up the minds of players such as Elton Jantjies and Franco van der Merwe, who may have been wondering about their futures prior to kickoff. Relegation would have forced both, and maybe a few others, to seek employment elsewhere, but the defeat in the match, no matter the fact the Lions got promoted, may yet prompt them to move on. They’ll know their team faces an uphill battle.
Because while the Lions are back in Super Rugby in 2014, there’s no guarantee they’ll be there in 2015 and the loss to the Kings proves just how closely matched SA’s fifth and sixth franchises are. The Lions have tons of work to do if they’re to make an impact next year, but already they’re favourites to feature against the Kings in next year’s promotion-relegation match.
It’s great the Lions are back in Super Rugby – for the players, coaches, administrators and the fans – but it’s important we face reality and Saturday’s result proved it: the Lions need more than hunger and screaming fans behind them if they’re to be a successful.
They need big-name players and big money … and they need a guarantee of playing in a top-flight competition. It’s the only way the Lions, and the Kings, will be able to survive and grow. So the sooner Saru or Sanzar can change the format of the competition the better, for the sake of South African rugby. – The Star
* If you use Gmail to read IOL’s newsletters, note that Google is rolling out a new tabbed inbox that filters your mail into 5 separate tabs – Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. IOL emails will probably be sent to the “Promotions” tab instead of the “Primary” tab. If you don’t want it that way, drag the newsletter from the Promotions tab to the Primary tab. An alert will pop up. Click “yes” and your newsletters will continue to go to your Primary inbox.