The Kings’ French Connection
Toulon agreement could be the start of more links
Movie buffs will a recall an action thriller called The French Connection which starred Gene Hackman and earned the actor many accolades.In Marseille, an undercover police detective is following Alain Charnier, a wealthy French criminal who runs the largest heroin-smuggling syndicate in the world.The policeman is assassinated by Charnier's hitman, Pierre Nicoli. Charnier plans to smuggle $32m (R451.4m) worth of heroin into the US by hiding it in the car of his unsuspecting friend.And then the action started. Now the struggling Isuzu Kings have a different kind of French Connection after they signed a memorandum of understanding with Toulon.The key points are:● Sharing of resources between the two sides;● An exchange programme between the coaching staff;● Sharing of player resources;● Commercial opportunities;● Youth development through their rugby academies; and● Fixtures between the sides. The Toulon agreement could be the start of more links between the Kings and other European partners.So the duck that lays the golden sponsorship egg could be waiting for the Kings in Europe.Given the weakness of the rand against foreign currency, it is not surprising that the Kings’ owners are exploring fresh avenues to add to their revenue stream.In March, SA Rugby announced they had sold a 74% shareholding in SA Super Rugby (Pty) Ltd, the Isuzu Southern Kings’ holding company, to a consortium called The Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (Pty) Ltd (GRC).Consortium chair Loyiso Dotwana has made it clear he is seeking a massive improvement from the Kings, who have won only two of their 18 Guinness PRO14 matches this season.“We are looking at other sponsorships to try to bolster the financial resources, and we are not only looking in SA,” Dotwana said.“I must point out that we are actually a northern hemisphere club and we are just based in the southern hemisphere. One of the interventions we are looking at it so look up north in Europe.“There are exposures there, and we want to see if there are corporate sponsorships that we can get from Europe. There are a number of interventions that are being put in place.“As a consortium, we are a diverse set of businesspeople, so there are a lot of resources being generated internally.”Significantly, Dotwana has warned fans he is not promising instant gratification and that his franchise does not have the resources to buy five or 10 Springbok marquee players.But Dotwana has raised expectations, saying the Kings want to win at least 50% of their PRO14 matches next season.To achieve that target he must give Kings head coach Deon Davids much more ammunition for his European battles.The biggest decision made by the new owners since taking over, was the appointment of former Springbok prop Robbi Kempson as high-performance director.This is a new role for the franchise and Kempson’s primary responsibilities will include the recruitment of quality playing personnel, overseeing the coaching structures and establishing a high-performance rugby academy.“We have not done well on the field, we are currently addressing that,” Dotwana said.“There will be a massive recruitment of new players for next season. The appointment of Robbi Kempson is part of that intervention to improve the Kings on the field of play.”Dotwana has promised Davids will be given extra coaching assistants as the consortium bids to turn the fortunes of the team around.“Deon has been running on almost a skeleton coaching structure for a number of years. Within the next three months, we want to recruit coaching personnel to assist Deon.“The idea is to lay a strong foundation for future success.”The Kings hierarchy will have taken note that Toyota have renewed their sponsorship of the Free State Cheetahs for another three years, until 2022.This contract will still include the title sponsorship for the Cheetahs PRO14, Currie Cup, SuperSport Rugby Challenge and junior teams.With their PRO14 rivals the Cheetahs playing at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein, could we one day see the Kings perhaps competing at the Isuzu Stadium in Port Elizabeth?Change is not something to be afraid of in professional rugby, according to Dotwana.With that advice in mind, expect a different Kings landscape next season.Parlez vous Francais, monsieur Davids?