The lack of transformation seems to be a chronic headache for Springbok selectors. However, one cannot simply select a player of colour to represent the national team if he isn’t good enough. The EP Kings were supposed to be the solution and provide an abundance of quality black players eligible for Springbok selection. One would think that SARU would award the Kings every opportunity to achieve this goal but their lack of commitment to the Kings and transformation has never been more apparent.
EP Rugby President, Cheeky Watson has been heavily criticized for the lack of black players that take to the field each week and even more so with each “white signing” that the Kings announce. But the stakes were heightened when the Kings were given one year to prove themselves in Super Rugby, forcing Watson’s hand. Rome was not built in a day and giving the Kings only a year to field a competitive Super Rugby team which is comprised mostly of non-white players is asking them to do just that.
Their opponents argue that if the Kings don’t want to face a relegation situation all they have to do is avoid last place of the South African conference. The vast majority of teams that have been admitted finished into Super Rugby late, have finished last or have lingered somewhere in that region. SARU has effectively signed the Kings’ death sentence. Not only would a poor overall performance fuel critics’ arguments, world class players are not willing to commit to a team who might not have a seat at the Super Rugby table in 2014.
The Kings needed at least three years to be able to build a team that meets South Africa’s transformation needs and can realistically compete in Super Rugby. To those asking, “What about the Lions?” Tough. The Lions have had years to build a decent team but continuously claim to be “rebuilding”, they are one of the few (if not the only) teams who have the “honour” of saying that they’ve gone an entire season without a single victory and suspended the first coach to bring home a trophy in years. If the Lions really wanted to play Super Rugby in 2013 that badly, they could have joined the Cheetahs to reform the Cats or piggybacked on the Bulls seeing as they are geographically the closest.
The Melbourne Rebels were allowed to sign as many as 11 foreign players in their debut season while SARU said the Kings would be limited to two like the already established South African franchises. If SARU insists on only guaranteeing the Kings one year in Super Rugby, common courtesy dictates that they at least afford the Kings the opportunity to field a world class team to attempt to avoid the wooden spoon.
If SARU truly wants to see transformation to the extent that rugby is no longer regarded as a “white man’s sport” in SA, they need to step up and assist the Kings in every way possible. It doesn’t help to say “we need more players of colour” and then deny the Eastern Cape, where three quarters of the population is black, a realistic chance to be competitive in Super Rugby.