Way forward for Lions


Resident blogger and Lions supporter, Kat, suggests the way forward for the Lions union.

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 account 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 player to stay or go in such cases. We all know that some should go and other 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.

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  1. So the Lions and Cheethas must merge because they can’t win the super rugby tournament?

    Well the southern Kings are certainly not going to do it, and neither has the Stormers, Sharks.

    The cheetahs have no depth?

    Well obviously if the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls can keep their hands off and their chequebooks in their pocket, that matter will be resolved.

    Privatising franchises.

    yeah, that will work, just look at england, it is a collective nothing when it comes to the england rugby team.

    :Rule 9:

  2. Biltongbek, so, if there are several teams that haven’t won the competition and may not be able to do so in future it is okay to be and remain one of them? Do you honestly think Free State will ever become a SR powerhouse? Look how they struggled to get a sponsor. Toyota coming to them was more mercy than opportunity. Free State depends on Grey College to feed them and it is easy to assume this model will forever work. Fact is nobody know whether Grey College will be able to maintain that momentum. Affies showed just this past weekend that changes may be afoot.

    It is easy for FS to chase the Lions away now, but what about the future? South Africa is changing as demgraphics change. This has already affected Joburg in a big way. I’m sure it will change Bloem too. My proposal seems unrealistic when old paradigms are considered, but when one looks at the future the merits become clearer.

  3. Kat, the reality is in no championship will you get all the teams to win the championship.

    Especially not when there is disparity amongst how much money the teams have.

    No matter how you split the dice. The Sharks, Bulls and Stormers are realistically the only teams at present with the money to win.

    Let us not forget it was the Lions that carried te flag for SA at the inception of the super 6’s.

    What has happened to Lions rugby is in a sense a mystery, but you could likely start at the administration.

    The Cheetahs unless they get a benefactor with lots of free money will never compete at Super rugby level.

    The Southern Kings is politically appointed. They have not since 2003 when they were formed achieved anything of note.

    you would expect them to have developed enough class players in the last 8 years, since they have known of this possibility to build a Super rugby team that could be competitive.

    They can’t even get past the quarter finals of the Vodacom Cup.

    Demographics change without a doubt. But to suggest that two temas 400 km’s apart join forces has first of all been proven to not work, but will also not work in the future.

    SARU is to blame for this whole mess in the first place, to compromise and look for solutions of merging teams is absolute nonsense and totally unacceptable.

  4. Reply to biltongbek @ 2:42 pm: I’m gatvol of losing in SR without a chance of ever winning the thing. Seriously. And so should every fan of teams that just compete (just to get a slice of the NewsCorp/SS money to be able to survive another season). New thinking is needed. New solutions must be found. We cannot just stumble on. Why support a team that just goes through the motions?

  5. I agree with something has to be done. but merging teams is not the solution.

    SARU has to rethink domestic rugby in SA in a serious way.

    We have 14 teams competing in the vodacom cup from SA.
    There are 14 Provinces competing in the currie cup, being split to premier and 1st division.

    It should be simple, you perfrom and end within the top 5 positions on the log, you qualify for Super rugby, and those teams who don’t has to release players on loan to the five who qualified.

    Unless of course SARU can negotiate like mature and intelligent business men the next time Murdoch brings pen to paer and there are six teams.

    You need to realise, the reason we lose so many matches with some of our teams,is simply because we canot sustain 5 teams, let alone six.

    There are according to Kobus Wiese 235 South Africans playing professional rugby overseas.

    If we had enough money in our system, half of them wouldn’t be there.

  6. Interesting comments KAT.

    This should not be about the Lions or the Southern Kings, or Cheetahs, Stormers, Bulls or Sharks, but about what is best for South African Rugby and all its 14 unions and its 650,000 players.
    Issues for consideration should be a coherent and proper tournament structure through to 2015 that mirrors the SANZAR agreements and the sequel Super Rugby tournament from 2016-2020.
    Where then are the mechanics to enable all 6 South African Rugby franchises to play the best rugby, with the best players, in the Super Rugby tournaments from 2011-2015 and 2016-2020?
    It is SARU that has to be guided by the franchises & their leadership to optimise this for the benefit of South African Rugby.
    That means in terms of the SARU Constitution – that SARU must outline tournament options with a White Paper, that sets out a pathway for optimum South African rugby performance – on and off the field.
    So issues of a merger, relegation and entrenchment are highly emotively charged and will only lead to a scorched earth policy which will wipe out two Senior franchises – each with 2-3 Junior unions subordinated to the senior franchise (except the Sharks).
    This will effect nearly 50% of SARU’s rugby unions and bring to them edge of collapse or wipe them out.
    Where is the risk assessment and due diligence of a quick fix 2013 option that is being bandied about? What of the fixtures in 2014 and 2015 and then the following tournament for the next 5 years?
    Where are Border and SWD in this Eastern Cape mix and what of their players and management?
    More importantly, why is it that after 8 years the Eastern Cape’s franchise team and management does not reflect the demographics of the area? Where are the coaches and players of colour and why is there no succession plan.
    Assume that SARU does shoe horn the Southern Kings in to a 2013 tournament and they field a predominantly 90% white team, that takes a monumental drubbing week in and week out – the blacks and players of colour in the Eastern Cape will scorn rugby and its administration as fielding a team that is not of the area – pretending to be of the area – and failing the rugby players & spectators of the Eastern Cape.
    It is time – after 8 years – that a body of wise rugby men – make recommendations back to the parent body and all 14 unions – of the best route to follow.
    If that is going to take some investment – let it be an investment in building the nation – rather than bringing it to its knees.

  7. Reply to TonyM @ 3:05 pm:

    More importantly, why is it that after 8 years the Eastern Cape’s franchise team and management does not reflect the demographics of the area?
    Been my argument against the Kings all along.
    Maybe it’s not about transformation as much
    as politics. And it’s not as if they can buy
    3-4 black players from elsewhere.
    And then there is the Watson factor.

    In the words of Danie Gerber to me in person:
    “EP rugby is one big mess.”

  8. Reply to Boertjie @ 5:20 pm: Chris Swart in his blog the other day said that Cheeky Watson does not have the support in PE many – incl Cheeky himself – assume/believe he has. I also still wonder what NewsCorp has to say about the Kings inclusion. It is one thing for SARU to give in to political pressure and quite another for the one who pays for it all to do so. I get a feeling this matter is not a settled as SARU might believe. NewsCorp will not appreciate the legal fallout that may well come if the Lions were to take such route.

  9. MTN – sponsor of the Lions – is way bigger than SARU and they will not appreciate the loss in exposure if the Lions were to sit out. They invested in the Lions with the expectation that their brand will be showcased.

  10. The agreement between SANZAR and NewsCorp states the the best players in each country must play. How will SARU honor this with the Kings? Unless, as I suspect, the plan was to use Lions players in new Kings jerseys … Jozie by the sea. As someone already said, what is the transformation improvement in importing white players or coloured/black players from elsewhere? If they manage to import players from abroad it will surely be against the spirit and good intentions of their inclusion.

  11. In MTN’s chief rugby following market they got full value for their investment when the Lions won the CC. MTN also appreciates the reasons for the struggles in the S15 this year and can see what the uncertainties that come with relegation threats and SARU’s poor handling of the situation is doing to the players and coaches. They are close to them. This mess harms the sponsorship of rugby in SA in general far more. What sponsor wants to be affected like this through SARU’s lack of leadership and action? This affects sponsorhip in rugby accross the board.

  12. SARU cannot afford to disregard what their decisions do to those willing to sponsor rugby in this country. Chase large sponsors like MTN away from rugby and the sport will be in serious trouble in years to come. Sponsors like these are to be treated like royalty.

  13. 17 May – 5 franchises + SARU in Jhb to walk through options

    24 May – SARU Exco to review Super Rugby options plus Springbok contract under arbitration prior to 9, 16 & 23 June Tests against England – One guess which assumes priority as England already has selected their squad of 42 for the SA tour.

    9 June – Durban Test against England
    16 June – Jhb Test against England
    23 June – PE Tests against England

    13 July – SARU General Council

    August – 6 months to 2013 Super Rugby warm up games
    – SANZAR issues fixture list

  14. If the Lions do not play next year, MTN can always sponsor another team or something entirely different. They’ve paid for what the got, no more and no less. There won’t be any legal recourse there.

    Entities that get payments from the Lions under multi year contracts: players, suppliers, landlords etc., may have recourse, but their cases are weak because under a bankruptcy they will normally get nothing.

    The only recourse to consider is what is coming from fans. Will SA rugby have more or less fans if it is the Kings or the Lions playing.

    Taking a money pot that used to be divided into 5 parts and dividing into 6 parts will weaken all teams. More superstar players will leave for elsewhere. SA rugby will suffer a net loss.

    Pro sports is the ultimate unfair meritocracy. Better to concentrate resources towards the few not spread it out amongst the many. Forget about the 99%, the 1% gets everything.

  15. The Lions breaking up will save Johannesburg rugby. Simple as that. The Lions simply cannot be expected any longer to represent a city so diverse and vast.

    JHB can host 3 rugby teams more successful than the Lions if you merge CULTURE.

    The St Johns, Jeppe, Stihtians clan go to Wits and end up playing for TEAM A. Natural association between like-minded people creates strong cultural bond and pride in a jersey and a common destiny.

    The Monument, Florida, Randfontein, Vereeniging, VDB, Meyerton clan go to UJ and end up playing for TEAM B. Natural association between like-minded people creates strong cultural bond and pride in a jersey and a common destiny.

    The EG Jansen, Benoni, Brakpan, Germiston en up going to UJ but play for TEAM C. Natural association between like-minded people creates strong cultural bond and pride in a jersey and a common destiny.

    You think I am talking kak until you realise that all 3 above entities are more than double the size and player number of the Cheetah franchise.

    Just a thought