Eastern Province Rugby Union President, Cheeky Watson, confirmed that the proposal to expand the ABSA Currie Cup Premier Division from six teams to eight next year was not passed during a special general meeting held in Johannesburg today.
The proposal, which was tabled with SARU at the end of the Super Rugby season, was initially presented to the unions at a special general meeting held on the 19th of September, but the vote was delayed till the 30th for further consideration.
Watson confirmed that, while the final vote was in favour of the amended structure of the competition, with a 19 / 10 split, the motion didn’t carry because it required a 75% majority vote.
“There were a lot of people in the room who were shocked by the outcome and were astounded by the short-sightedness of the unions that voted against this proposal,” he said.
“This is just another hurdle that we will have to overcome,” said Watson.
“We are used to fighting from the trenches. We have shown the world what can be done, despite what many claimed were insurmountable obstacles that stood in our path for our participation in Super Rugby, and we will continue to do so,” he said.
Watson said the decision meant that the Southern Kings were once again back on the fringes of the Super Rugby competition, as the initial proposal was that the Southern Kings would forfeit their right to promotion relegation next year, should EP Rugby be promoted to the premier division, to provide stability to both the Southern Kings and Lions franchises.
“Since this has not happened, it means that we will now play against the bottom ranked team of the South African Super Rugby franchises at the end of the season next year, in a promotion relegation playoff, as the Lions did against us this year,” he said.
EP Rugby CEO, Charl Crous, who was also at the meeting, said that this did not mean the end of top flight rugby in the region.
“With our ongoing preparations for our re-entry into Super Rugby, we will be hosting a number of friendlies against the other South African franchises next year,” he said.
Crous said they were in negotiations with SA Rugby to determine the dates and times of the friendlies and would communicate this as soon as the information was available.
“We are also in advanced stages of negotiations and are endeavouring to ensure viable other top flight rugby products in the future for our spectators, sponsors and partners,” he said.
“We 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 this year have shown that this is the case, with the Southern Kings securing the third highest crowd attendances of the fifteen teams taking part in the competition,” he said.
Watson said the union would continue to focus on the development taking place within Eastern Province Rugby.
“We have always maintained that there is a clear plan in place for the region, despite the Southern Kings relegation at the end of the Super Rugby season this year,” he said.
“Our plan is to build on the solid foundations that have been put in place by our debut in Super Rugby, and to develop local talent and provide them with opportunities to compete, without them having to go to other unions to do so,” he said.
Watson 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 benefits of our Academy in terms of transformation are already clearly visible, with the EP Kings Currie Cup first division team having fielded up to nine black players in the starting 15, and four black substitutes on the bench.”
“Our Under 21 side, which is currently top of their respective log, and which is dominating their opposition, is predominantly made up of players of colour, with only five white players in the squad,” he said.
“The fact is that Eastern Province Rugby Union has the potential to truly transform the entire South African rugby landscape, through developing our local talent, providing them with the platforms to showcase their talent, and reach their full potential.”
“We have the structures in place 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 once again took up their rightful place in Super Rugby, the team would be able to showcase the talent that has come from the region.