The top four teams in the South African Conference in 2012 (DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls, The Sharks and Toyota Cheetahs) will join the Southern Kings in the 2013 tournament.
The teams were confirmed after the General Meeting accepted a proposal first tabled by the Executive Council in January. The proposal was that: â€śThe franchise occupying the lowest log position of the five franchises at the end of 2012 would be relegated.â€ť
The MTN Lions, who finished bottom of the South African Conference, will have the chance to regain their status in 12 monthsâ€™ time. The Executive Council had previously determined that the bottom team in 2013 would play in a two-legged promotion and relegation series against the relegated franchise. The promotion/relegation series will also be in place in 2014 and 2015 â€“ at which point the broadcast contract expires.
â€śAll rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition,â€ť said Mr Oregan Hoskins, president of SARU. â€śThat decision was first taken in 2005 but their inclusion has twice been postponed.
â€śWe made a commitment to the Kings to include them in 2013 and rugby has delivered on that commitment. The franchise represents more clubs than any other region â€“ apart from the Stormers â€“ and contains numerous leading rugby schools. It has been starved of top-class rugby competition for a decade and a half and now it has the chance to show what it can do.â€ť
Mr Hoskins said that SANZARâ€™s decision to grant the 15th franchise to Melbourne in 2011 â€“ rather than the Southern Kings â€“ had created a dilemma for SARU. He said that the organisation and players had wanted a â€śrugby solutionâ€ť to accommodate six franchises in five places and this had been delivered, as challenging as it was for the relegated team.
â€śThe provinces asked for a rugby solution and we believe that this was the fairest and most transparent method to respond to what is undoubtedly a less than ideal situation,â€ť he said. â€śWe also canvassed Vodacom Super Rugby players before the start of the season, through the Playersâ€™ Association, and this was their preferred mechanism.
â€śWe will continue to push the case for early expansion within SANZAR. Negotiations on a new broadcasting rights deal will begin shortly and the inclusion of six South African franchises will be firmly top of our agenda.â€ť
Jurie Roux, the CEO of SARU, said that the decision to apply a promotion and relegation system from 2013 was standard practice in sport.
â€śWe operate promotion and relegation in all our Absa Currie Cup competitions, with the bottom-placed team being relegated unless it wins a play off,â€ť said Roux.
â€śWe lobbied hard with our partners in Australia and New Zealand to expand to 16 teams with the inclusion of a sixth South African franchise from next season, but they had no incentive to change what has been a winning format.
â€śOur strategic goal is to have six strong franchises covering the whole of South Africa and this decision keeps all of them in play on an annual basis.â€ť
The Lions president, Kevin de Klerk, responded in a statement with the following:
â€śWe are extremely disappointed at this result. This is a very unfortunate decision which will result in a team taking part in a competition without needing to qualify on rugby merits. We will take time to consider this decision and then to plan our response that best protects our players, staff, stakeholders and supportersâ€ť.
A press conference will be held by the Golden Lions Rugby Union next Tuesday, 21 August 2012 regarding the above matter.