Kings play on with few resources

Southern Kings captain Lionel Cronje
Picture: Michael Sheehan

Saru need to put more money in to make side competitive

Any mid-term review of SA Rugby’s handling of the Southern Kings’ hurried entry into PRO14 rugby must be marked down as a dismal failure.

Because of the cash crisis that left EP rugby in chaos, the Kings are being bankrolled by Saru, who do not appear to have the will to transform the team into a winning entity.

It must be emphasised that it is Saru who have failed, and not Kings head coach Deon Davids and his team, who are fighting valiantly despite one hand being tied behind their backs.

Any team Davids puts out always plays with guts and this season has been no different.

So far, the Kings have crashed to 10 consecutive defeats and the patience of even their die-hard supporters is starting to wear thin.

The losing sequence has led to small crowds watching games and the Kings have now opted to take their home match against Munster to the Outeniqua Stadium in George on April 7.

This, of course, has not gone down well with the increasingly disgruntled season ticket holders.

There is also speculation that the Kings might play a game in East London.

If the Kings are to salvage some pride in the second half of the season, Saru urgently need to start investing more money in the team to ensure they are competitive.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen if one considers what SA Rugby previously said about the state of rugby in the Bay.

After the team lost their opening six matches, Weekend Post asked Saru what they planned to do put the team back on their feet.

SA Rugby responded by asking fans to be patient and to only pass judgment on the struggling Kings at the end of their debut PRO14 season following a dismal start.

“There will also be the opportunity to strengthen the squad as the season progresses, but it’s a long season and mature judgement can only come on its conclusion,” SA Rugby media spokesman Andy Colquhoun said.

“The Southern Kings’ inclusion in the PRO14 was accomplished in a very short space of time and presented a number of logistical challenges – not least of which was the contracting of a squad.

“Coach Deon Davids and the rest of the Kings’ management have worked manfully against the odds and as time progresses they will improve as they amply demonstrated in Super Rugby.” Because they do not have a sponsor, and are being bankrolled by SA Rugby, it has become the case of the “Pauper Kings” having to battle for survival against opposition players whose riches they can only dream about.

While most of the Kings players are reported to be on a monthly salary of about R35 000, their European rivals are earning substantially more.

Unless the Kings can land a major sponsor, it would appear that they will struggle to retain or buy top players if are forced to rely on SA Rugby handouts.

In September EP Rugby Union president Andre Rademan said a process designed to eventually hand the PRO14 back to his union had begun.

Rademan said a board would be formed comprising three EPRU members and three members of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, who would assist in obtaining sponsors for the union.

However, there has been no further news on how far the process has evolved.

After scaling unprecedented heights and scoring historic Super Rugby wins over the Sharks and Bulls, everything unravelled for the Southern Kings in PRO14.

It has been an emotional roller coaster ride for Davids, who has experienced the highs and lows of being at the cutting edge of professional rugby.

The statistics show the resurgent Kings won six of their 15 Super Rugby matches, before slumping to 10 consecutive PRO14 defeats.

What the two logs do not show is that the Kings employed vastly different squads for the two campaigns.

At the end of the Super Rugby season, Kings captain Lionel Cronje (Toyota Verblitz), Louis Schreuder and Tyler Paul (Sharks), Irne Herbst (Benneton Treviso), Schalk van der Merwe (Ulster), Makazole Mapimpi and Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs) and Chris Cloete (Munster) all headed for the exit door.

Despite the succession of defeats, Davids has emphasised that it is important that his team do not dwell on past results as they face their remaining 11 PRO14 matches.

“It is not the ideal situation, because obviously we want to see a result, but we need to be to be very careful how we approach things and not get lost in our past results.

“There is a lot of talent in the squad and a lot of good things that come with the squad. Looking at the PRO14, any team need a bit of experience and quality in their spine.

“Looking at our Super Rugby squad we had Louis Schreuder and Lionel Cronje as our No 9 and No 10, and both of those guys were in the national setup.

“That gives you an idea of the quality of the players we had as drivers in those positions. This time we have some experienced guys, but some of them have not played at this level before.

“You have to be realistic and say there is talent, but this has to be nurtured and that is the best way to do it.

“I can chuck a guy in and let him play, and we will find out in the first or second game that this guy does not have it.

“Then [we should ask] is this guy becoming a bad player or does this player need a more senior guy that plays ahead of him that he can work with?

“Then he can learn from him and gradually we will see his potential coming through.

“That is the type of assessment I make in terms of the squad in different positions.

“We have lost some quality, and we have to be realistic in how and where we need to build some more depth and get more experience in,” Davids said.

Clearly, as the results show, Saru need to make a much bigger investment if they want their ambitious Kings project to take off.

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