While professional teams across the country return to training in lockdown level 2, the board of the Southern Kings has voluntarily withdrawn the team from participation in any planned domestic rugby competitions for the rest of 2020.
The effect of the decision is that a varsity graduate-heavy squad will be left in limbo. Of the 44 players registered to play in the suspended 2019-20 Guinness PRO14 season, 26 have featured in FNB Varsity Cup, FNB Varsity Shield or FNB Varsity Young Guns - almost 60%. Interestingly, the Kings' captain John-Charles 'JC' Astle even played FNB Res Rugby (for Vishuis at the University of the Free State) while their Director of High Performance and acting Head coach, Robbi Kempson, also has his varsity connections having taken charge of Madibaz Young Guns in 2015.
Despite the fact that the Kings have only picked up one win in 13 PRO14 matches before the 2019-20 season was suspended in March, the decision to withdraw the team was a tough one, says André Rademan, chairman of the Southern Kings board.
"Following several weeks of interrogation of the Kings' financial state of affairs we were left with a straightforward choice," said Rademan in a SA Rugby-issued press release.
"We could opt to field the Kings in the domestic competitions mooted by SA Rugby for the sport's post-lockdown resumption if we so wished.
"If we did so, it would require additional loans to the Kings or extra investment from the shareholders to the tune of R6.5-million, which would add to the organisation's existing substantial debt.
"However, as there was no contractual requirement for the Kings to resume short-term participation in the Guinness PRO14 competition, because of air travel restrictions, and as the Kings had no other commercial commitments to honour, the most prudent decision was to withdraw.
Erich Cronjé, who joined the Southern Kings from FNB UP-Tuks in 2019, has featured eight times in the Guinnes PRO14. Photo by Catherine Kotze/SASPA
“This may not be a popular decision but in the current circumstances it is the right decision.”
The decision was supported by the executive committee of the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) and SA Rugby – the two shareholders in the Kings company.
"This is obviously very disappointing news for the players and management who, like all rugby professionals, were desperate to resume playing,” said Rademan. “But the board believed that further investment in 2020 with zero commercial return would be reckless in the extreme."
Rademan said that with ongoing uncertainty about competition formats and travel restrictions into 2021, the board would now take time to reconsider its options and the on-going financial challenges.
"As a board we had been considering further short-term contracts to see the squad through to the end of the year," he said. "But it became apparent that we would, for want a better phrase, be throwing good money after bad in the current global environment.
"We now have time to consider what is the best way forward for rugby in the Eastern Province in this fluid and financially challenging environment."
Rademan, who is also president of the EPRU, said further consultation would take place with the Kings staff in the coming weeks over the next steps for the team.
SA Rugby assumed management control of the Southern Kings, having taken back a 74% shareholding in the organisation (from the shortlived Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World), in partnership with the EPRU in June.
SOUTHERN KINGS 2019-20 SQUAD: (varsity rugby alumni in bold)
Josh Allderman (UP-Tuks Young Guns 2017/UP-Tuks 2018), Christian Ambadiang, John-Charles ‘JC’ Astle (Vishuis 2010/Shimlas 2012-13), Lusanda Badiyana (NMMU Young Guns 2015/Madibaz 2017), Tango Balekile (NMMU Young Guns 2015/Madibaz 2016), Masixole Banda (UFH 2012), Thembelani Bholi, Michael Botha (UCT 2014-15), Aaron Brody, Henry Brown (Madibaz 2016-18), Martinus ‘Tienie’ Burger (UFS Young Guns 2012-13/Shimlas 2014-15), Demetri Catrakilis (UCT 2011), Erich Cronjé (UP-Tuks 2018-19), Luyolo Dapula (Madibaz 2018), Cameron Dawson, Rossouw de Klerk (UP-Tuks 2010), Bobby de Wee, Jacques du Toit (UFS Young Guns 2012/Shimlas 2012-15), Schalk Ferreira, Aston Fortuin (UP-Tuks Young Guns 2015/UP-Tuks 2016-17), Gareth Heidtmann, Christopher Hollis (Madibaz 2019), John-Thomas ‘JT’ Jackson (UP-Tuks 2015-16), Tertius Kruger (UFS Young Guns 2012-13), Ruaan Lerm, Andell Loubser, Elrigh Louw (Shimlas 2019), Edmund Ludick (UP-Tuks Young Guns 2019), Theo Maree (UP-Tuks Young Guns 2014-15/UP-Tuks 2016-19), Siyabonga Masuku (NWU Young Guns 2015), Gavin Mills, Howard Mnisi (NMMU Madibaz 2012-13), Yaw Penxe (NMMU Madibaz Young Guns 2016), Bader Pretorius, Sarel Pretorius, Ignatius ‘IG’ Prinsloo, Pieter Scholtz, Jerry Sexton, Sibusiso Sithole, Alulutho Tshakweni, Josiah Twum-Boafo (Madibaz 2019 - main photo), Stefan Ungerer, Alandré van Rooyen (UP-Tuks Young Guns 2015), Cyril-John ‘CJ’ Velleman (NMMU Madibaz 2015), Xandré Vos (Madibaz Young Guns 2016/Madibaz 2017), Courtney Winnaar (NMMU Young Guns 2016).