Is Eastern Province rugby being shafted again?
Cheeky Watson and SA Rugby have been punting 16 June as the launch date for the Southern Kings, the franchise that would revive rugby in the Eastern Cape.
The Kings were going to play in the Super 15 after two seasons in the Currie Cup. The weary fans from Port Elizabeth accepted that there would be a few tough seasons until the Kings found their feet in top flight rugby.
But, we would be watching the Crusaders and the Sharks and the Bulls playing in our back garden again and that alone would be worth watching our team take a hammering or two along the way. There is a proud rugby tradition in Port Elizabeth and without a doubt we would have toppled some big name teams along the way.
There is no reason why the hills of Ciskei should not be able to match the prop factory that exists in Zimbabwe and that in a few years there would be new “Beasts” and Mjati’s coming through the ranks.
The rugby schools are here and schools like Selborne, Queens, Dale and Grey College have produced generation after generation of Springbok rugby players. Grassroots development programmes could feed talented youngsters into the rugby schools and then into the franchise with relative ease as the infrastructure is already in place.
Warning lights were flickering and alarm bells were ringing when it was announced that the extra super rugby franchise would be based in Australia. There were even a few ridiculous statements that the Kings would be based overseas.
Let’s face facts now. Under the current system the Kings will not make it over the long haul and rugby will continue along the path of terminal decline in the Eastern Province.
The team that has been selected to play the British Lions is a makeshift one at best and diehard EP supporters will battle to connect with this team. Even the doomed Southern Spears seemed to have more local support when they played the Cheetahs at the Boet Erasmus stadium a few years ago.
From reports on the game EP played against Western Province last weekend it is clear that rugby is not improving in the province. Cheeky Watson must act quickly and decisively if he wants to save Eastern Province rugby. And that includes using whatever political connections he has to safeguard the game for generations to come in the nursery of South African rugby.