FIGHTING a ferocious battle on two fronts proved to be the undoing of the Kings as they were relegated from Super Rugby and then failed to win the Currie Cup First Division and so gain automatic promotion to the Premier Division.
However, it was no fault of their own that they were destined to become the first South African union to conduct Super Rugby and Currie Cup campaigns simultaneously.
In the end it sucked all the life out of their promotion bid because their star players were still involved in Super Rugby when the Currie Cup kicked off.
With their limited resources, it was a battle EP Rugby could not win after they made a sluggish start in their First Division campaign.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for EP because it looks likely they will still gain promotion to the Premier Division and their re-entry into Super Rugby in 2016 has already been rubber stamped.
When EP rugby chiefs met for the annual meeting last month, chief executive Charl Crous put the season into perspective at a well-attended meeting.
“We had to field two professional sides simultaneously, something no other union has had to do, as we began our Currie Cup First Division games while still in the final stages of Super Rugby,” Crous said.
“This stretched us beyond what we ourselves thought we were capable of, and yet we were able to finish second on the overall log, behind Pumas.
“This also provided us with a platform for some of our younger players to gain exposure at Currie Cup level.
“There has also been significant interest generated around the EP Kings and what is happening in rugby in the region.
“Looking at the talent coming through from our schools, this should come as no surprise, with both our U19 and U21 teams excelling on the field and winning their respective competitions.
“The U19s then went on to secure promotion from B division to A division, and our U21s secured an undefeated season before narrowly missing promotion to A division in the play-offs in East London,” Crous said
In his report to delegates, EP President Cheeky Watson said: “The year that has passed has seen the Eastern Province Rugby Union take centre stage, as the world sat up and took notice of the talent that this region has produced, and not just on a professional level.
“There has been a lot of talk over the year about the success achieved by the Southern Kings, and even the ABSA Currie Cup team that managed to beat the odds and end second on the log, despite not having access to our top players for half the season as they were still tied up in Super Rugby.” Watson said the successes and challenges of the professional arm had been well documented.
“I would like to point out though, that after many years of hard work behind the scenes, the region’s dream of taking part in Super Rugby finally materialised.
“This has meant that the whole world was suddenly exposed to truths that we had known for years.
“There is a wealth of rugby playing talent in the Eastern Cape and there is a need for top-flight rugby to be based in the region if we are to retain our players and see that talent develop; and there is a vast, untapped support base for top-flight rugby in the region.
“At club level, we have seen Despatch win the inaugural Community Cup against College Rovers, and have recently heard that Despatch will face Eastern Province arch-rivals Spring Rose in the televised opening match of Community Cup next year. This after Saru confirmed the New Brighton club as one of five wild cards to be invited to participate in the country’s flagship tournament for non-university clubs.
“In the Varsity Cup, the NMMU Madibaz were the highest ranked NMMU team in the history of the tournament, obtaining fourth place overall, beating the overall champions UP-Tuks, UJ, UFS-Shimlas and Wits en route to the semifinal, in which NMMU lost narrowly to Maties 16-15.
“There can also be no question about the successes and spectacular performances of the clubs involved in the Super 12, the Grand Challenge and the Adams Cup.
“A special mention should go out to the NMMU Madibaz for winning the Grand Challenge and to Trying Stars for winning the Adams Cup.
“Special mention should also go to the Eastern Province Women’s team, who took top honours at the annual Saru Interprovincial Sevens competition in Kimberley earlier this month.
“Four members of our women’s team were also selected earlier this year to represent the women’s Springboks in the Sevens World Cup. We are also proud of Siviwe “Shakes” Soyizwapi and Sergeal Petersen [who unfortunately couldn’t attend due to injury], who were called up to the wider Springbok Sevens training squad, and Aidon Davis, who represented the SA Schools U20. Siviwe has since secured a position in the SA Academy Sevens side that will be playing in Dubai.”
Watson said while there had been a lot of development on the field, there had been just as much progress in capacity building and development.
“This year saw the establishment of the Eastern Province Rugby Coaches Association, which is looking at skills transfer between coaches from the professional and amateur arms of the union, and a number of workshops have since been rolled out to facilitate this skills transfer.
“The appointment of a manager of coaches development has also seen better oversight of coaching workshops being rolled out across the sub unions.
“Ongoing Boksmart and referee training has also been taking place and a number of initiatives at school level, including high performance assessments and programmes, have been rolled out.
“We have also implemented a selection committee to identify club-based players for consideration for the Vodacom Cup competition next year, with the first group of players having already been called up and evaluated based on fitness and skills.
“There is no doubt that there is a revitalisation of rugby in the Eastern Province, but we also need to manage this process, now more than ever.”