It is not often that I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I read something about administration in South African rugby, but the guts and determination of the Golden Lions Rugby Union who is arguably facing their biggest crisis in their 100+ year history is something that deserves more than just an honourable mention.

I have personally posted blogs on this union in the last 5 years where I was more than just a tad critical about the union and specifically their administrators, but not without justification.  Even the most loyal Lions supporter will agree with me that the levels of absurdity this union stooped to was unforgivable given its proud 122-year history.

The chaos in their boardrooms was only exceeded by the chaos and embarrassment of their on-field performances.  The union not only lost the respect of their fans but also truck-loads of money from sponsors which left them, according to some, on the verge of bankruptcy.

Late last year this crisis reached breaking point with the news that the once proud union who was the first South African team to win a Super Rugby tournament, was told that they are going to be replaced by the Kings.  Now unlike the late 90’s where we also had teams promoted and relegated, rugby as a professional sport was still in its infancy.  Today, teams survive almost exclusively on the principle and the size of the slice of the Super Rugby pie they get and if you are not one of the chosen 5 to play in the competition, you are doomed financially.

The Lions could have easily crawled into a corner and sulk, blaming every man and his dog for this unfair decision (which in many ways it was) and accepted their fate as a doomed entity relegated to a second tier union or even worse, closing their doors permanently.

Instead, De Klerk and his staff went balls to the wall.  They refused to give up on a proud union (and themselves) and jumped into action to save what still could be saved.  Firstly they tried to look after their most valuable assets, their players, and although a handful has been lost to the union they managed to secure loan deals for others and even managed to sign on new recruits!

Secondly they sat down and worked out a plan of action for the union for the months February to August 2013 when the rest of the rugby nation will be fixated on the Super Rugby competition.  They were never going to get themselves involved in something on the same level as Super Rugby in the time they had, but hell they came pretty close.

The Lions have managed to secure matches against countries like Samoa, Russia and Namibia – they will also play against French clubs like Agen and Montpellier, a couple of games against Barbarian sides from France and an American All-Stars team, games against all 5 South African Super Rugby sides which makes up a total of 18 games from January 19th to August 3rd.  It is quite simply, a remarkable achievement by the administrators to have secured this.

With most of their top class players on loan to other Super Rugby franchises, the Lions will have quite a youthful squad for what they named, The Lions Challenge.  It is a squad of players who will gain invaluable experience against international players, experience life on the road and in foreign lands, all of this with zero pressure or little focus on the actual results.

Compare that to what the extended squad players of Super Rugby franchises will be stuck with in a Vodacom Cup competition, and one might be forgiven to think that it’s actually quite genius from the Lions administration to have come up with this.

Of course their aim in the end is to get back into Super Rugby, after all, it is where the money is.  And apart from probably taking the best route to prepare for the important promotion/relegation match for what will be a fresh and hungry squad of Lions players against a battered, bottom of the log Super Rugby franchise, the Lions may just have shown other unions and alternative to a boring competition like the Vodacom Cup to build squad depth.

Ironically, it seems that the worst possible scenario or biggest crisis the union faced in the last 20 years might have been the catalyst to finally shake the administration out of their comfort zone forcing them to take action.  Something that might just stir the sleeping giant to wake from its decade long hibernation…

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  1. Morning Morne and all – good article! As a long suffering Lions supporter I will make every effort to support them in this by attending as many games as I can at Ellis Park. As you say, it might just be the start of bigger things in place of the Vodacom Cup.

  2. it is very impressive what the Lions have put together in such a short time, but on the surface it all seems a bit hollow without a specific goal to the challenge, only time will tell if there is any substance to the 18 games.

    my view on SR is that NH tournaments have it spot on with the straight relegation of bottom ranked teams, currently administrations in SA know they are safe (well used to be) so they didnt really worry about the next year, and we all know what happens in the comfort zone, just look at Drotske at the Cheetahs. currently i feel unions are lazy in terms of managing their outfits because they are guarenteed their pay cheque next year, if we had straight relegation of the 2 bottom SA teams for say Lions and Griquas, administrators would start making better choices in my opinion.

  3. Reply to Morné @ 10:13 am:

    well lets not count the chickens just yet, i think they are still in some major trouble financially, will this venture draw any meaningful revenue, hopefully it does, my opinion at this stage without any data is that the Lions are grabbing at straws, the same big talk is dished out as previous years, like i said, only time will tell if they have what it takes to back up those words. my question is, if they dont make it back into SR for 2014, what will happen then….

  4. Reply to MacToogie @ 10:33 am:

    Sitting in a corner and just playing Vodacom Rugby, initiating court cases against SA Rugby for unfair relegation, those are things I would associate with grabbing at straws and not taking responsibility.

    From where I sit, they have taken a positive step in an otherwise diabolical mess with the single aim (make no mistake), of getting back into Super Rugby as I mentioned.

    Who will come out stronger not only at the end of 2013 but in the next 2 to 4 years between the Kings and Lions given the current situation and what we now know will transpire as far as competition and games go? My bet is firmly with the Lions.

  5. Reply to Morné @ 10:40 am:
    Good point there regarding the court cases etc, like i said though, their walk needs to start matching their talk, not only with getting back into SR but performing well in it, its like dealing with a newly clean alcoholic after years of drunken debauchery, only after a great deal of time of sobriety will you START believing they can stay on track, im not saying the Lions wont come right, i really hope they do, at this point i wouldnt bet my house on it.

  6. Toooogs

    You’ve been so scarce on Twitter…

    Some of my dumb jock brainless EFC pro fighter friends are very keen to show you in person just exactly how educated they are…

    You know like Dylan Goosen the attorney, Michiel Opperman the doctor and Dino Bertolis the actuary…

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