Pro14 all part of the SARU plan?

Is the PRO14 a sneaky Super Rugby exit plan, or an adrenalin shot to the SA player drain dreamt up by agents? TANK LANNING, in his All Out Rugby column, explores two conspiracy theories.

Tank Lanning

Given what is going on in Australia, this whole culling of the Cheetahs and Kings from Vodacom Super Rugby has gone quite swimmingly. Especially in a country that seems to court controversy without even looking for it.

Perhaps too swimmingly? Is there more to it than meets the eye?

On the face of it, the two franchises’ participation in the European Pro12 tournament while SA Rugby stays “Fully committed” to SANZAAR via the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers participation in Super Rugby looks to be a prime example of being half pregnant.

South Africa simply does not have the player resources to stock six professional franchises.

So sending the Kings and Cheetahs to play in Europe totally defeats the purpose of the Super Rugby cull – which was for South Africa and Australia to use players from the exiting franchises to stock a more competitive set of 4 franchises in each country. Now not only do we continue to play Super Rugby with under resourced franchises, but also play in Europe with two under resourced franchises.

Half pregnant … Silly.

A case of needing to find the necessary funding to compensate the two franchises for the three years they had been contracted to play Super Rugby? Perhaps. But I have it on good authority from a source high up in the commercial world of rugby that both franchises knew their fate on the day the cull was announced by SANZAAR, and that this Pro12 plan has been long in the making.

And as SA Rugby, why wouldn’t you use the opportunity to trial a new market?

Calling Super Rugby a product in decline is polite. It’s more like a mangy 18 year old cat coughing up it’s final fur ball. The 2005 Super 12, offering up just 69 games in total, had close on a million more TV viewers than the 125 game version in 2015. A million! And in 2016, the number of viewers per local derby – the so called engine of the tournament – dropped from over 400 000 per game to under 240 000. The decline in interest is simply astonishing.

I am not convinced that it can recover. Perhaps with a massive rethink and complete overhaul. Certainly not by culling 3 teams. That is slapping an Elastoplast on a gaping wound.

So why not take a gander at the European market while remaining “Fully committed” to the SANZAAR product? It is, after all, a market that SA Rugby have long wanted to get into – what with the friendly time zones and even more friendly exchange rates.

Cheetahs managing director Harold Verster might have let the cat out the bag when he gave credit to SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux for his foresight and assistance in facilitating an alternative route for the two teams, saying: “We’ve reached a very amicable solution with SA Rugby, which will keep us on the same level as Super Rugby”.

An astute move by SA Rugby to look “Half pregnant” while testing the waters in Europe so that if and when SANZAAR crumble, we are ready to take Europe by storm?

Well, that’s one theory …

The other theory doing the rounds suggests that the Pro12 plan was thought up by agents, with the Kings and Cheetahs merely providing them with a new pool of SA players from which to sign for European teams, thus saving them on scouting trips to the Republic!

Giving credence to this theory is Kings reserve scrum-half Rudi Van Rooyen, who reckons: “Most of the South Africans want to earn Pounds or Euros and I think playing in Europe, against the big teams from Ireland, Scotland or Wales, will certainly put your foot in the door a bit.”

“I’ve got only about four, five, six years left. Playing against the European teams week in, week out should hopefully (provide) a way for us to get overseas,” he went on to say.

A sneaky exit from a dying Super Rugby for SA Rugby, or an adrenalin shot to the already free flowing player drain to Europe? Both theories have merit, and both might explain the altogether fuss-free culling of the two franchises from Super Rugby.