SOUTHERN KINGS WILL replace Golden Lions as one of five South African franchises in the 2013 Super 15, it was announced today.
South African Rugby Union (SARU) officials voted 26-3 in Cape Town to promote the Eastern Cape-based Kings and relegate the Johannesburg Lions, who finished bottom of the table this year.
Coastal Sharks, who finished runners-up this season to Waikato Chiefs of New Zealand, semi-finalists Western Stormers, three-time champions Northern Bulls and improving Central Cheetahs retain their status.
“All rugby provinces have consistently supported the need for an Eastern Cape team in the competition. That decision was first taken in 2006 but their inclusion has twice been postponed,” SARU president Oregan Hoskins said.
“The Kings franchise represents more clubs than any other region — apart from the Stormers — and contains numerous leading rugby schools. It has been starved of top-class competition for a decade-and-a-half.
The decision to axe the lowest South African team on the table followed months of speculation that included the Lions joining forces with another franchise and the Kings being paid to delay their elevation.
There has been ongoing political pressure to promote the Kings, who are likely to stage home fixtures at 2010 FIFA World Cup venue Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in coastal city Port Elizabeth.
Eastern Cape boasts the largest number of black rugby players in the country and some officials from the ruling ANC party have expressed unhappiness at what they believed was the neglect of the sport in the region.
Glimmer of hope
New Zealander Matt Sexton was named coach of the Kings last April but the Currie Cup second-tier leaders have not announced any major signings before the big step-up to Super 15 fare.
Softening the blow a little for the Lions, who have denied constant reports of financial problems, is the decision to have a two-leg South African promotion-relegation match at the end of each Super 15 from next year.
South African officials want six franchises in the competition when the television deal is renegotiated after the 2015 tournament and there has also been speculation of Argentine, Japanese and Pacific Islands entrants.