Just how the revised Super Rugby format will go down with the South African rugby public is unclear, but we won’t have to wait long to find out.
The new-look tournament gets underway in less than a month, with the Blues and the Highlanders kicking things off in Auckland on Friday 26 February 2016.
From a South African perspective, the road ahead looks a tough one and if local bookmakers are to be believed there is no standout side from within these borders that looks set to challenge for the title.
Outside of the tournament changes, the majority of the South African franchises have also undergone major alterations with only 2wo sides – the Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions – heading into 2016 with the same coaches that did the business in 2015.
The Southern Kings, obviously, were not a part of the 2015 competition but they also have a new man at the helm.
Here, we look at the 6 men tasked with bringing success to their respective franchises:
Embattled Eastern Province Rugby Union President Cheeky Watson has had the first set of legal documents served on him.
The players organisation, MyPlayers, confirmed that an Application for Liquidation was brought – through their trade union SARPA – against the EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd.
This move comes after lengthy consultations with the various stakeholders concerned as well as the exploration of all legal options available.
It follows in the wake of confirmation that EP Rugby last week reached an agreement with 18 players (who did not receive Super Rugby contracts) over outstanding salaries.
EP Rugby needs to come up with 5 Million Rand by Sunday 31 January, or they will also face a Liquidation Application from the lawyer of the aforementioned players – Craig Jessop, a labour lawyer working for the firm Brown Braude and Vlok.
This move forced MyPlayers and SARPA’s hand.
Former South African Schools lock Philip du Preez is 1 of 3 new signings by the Southern Kings.
The Southern Kings, who will return to Super Rugby next month after a 3-year absence, confirmed the singing of the young up and coming lock, Philip du Preez (22), versatile backline player Jurgen Visser (26) and seasoned hooker Martin Bezuidenhout (26).
Kings Chief Operating Officer Charl Crous also confirmed that Sharks player Jaco van Tonder (24) has joined the team on trial this week.
The Southern Kings have confirmed a number of new signings following a week of intensive training with the SA Rugby Mobi Unit.
Chief Operating Officer, Charl Crous, confirmed that Pumas flanker, Chris Cloete, (24) and Sharks Lock John-Charles (JC) Astle (25) had been secured on loan for the season.
Following initial trials, Crous also confirmed the Southern Kings have also retained the talent of SWD utility back Leighton Eksteen (21) who has played at Scrumhalf, Flyhalf and Fullback, as well as SWD’s Luzuko Vulindlu (28) who has played at Centre and Wing. Both have been secured on loan from SWD for the season.
Sharks Centre Lukhanyo Am (22) has also secured a position in the squad on loan.
Crous said Sharks hooker, Monde Hadebe (25) would be returning to the Sharks for rehab following a slight back sprain that will see him out of action for between 4 to 5 weeks.
Crous also confirmed hooker Martin Ferreira (26) and lock, Tazz Fuzani (25) had been secured on contract for the Southern Kings season for 2016.
On the day that the South African Rugby Players Association (SARPA) started sending letters to players informing them that they will NOT be offered contracts by the South African Rugby Union (SARU)-controlled Kings, the 1st player confirmed that he will be taking legal action against the Eastern Province Rugby Union.
Michael van Vuuren issued a statement in which he confirmed he will go the legal route.
SARPA have started sending letters to the players who will not be offered contracts by SARU – believed to be the bulk of the current Kings squad.
SARU has instead opted make use of Sevens and Under 20 players to fill the bulk of the Super Rugby squad, after taking control over from the near bankrupt EPRU last month.
Only a very small number of the current Kings will receive contract offers from SARU.
However, the players on Monday opted for a show of solidarity when they presented a petition to Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) President Cheeky Watson.
The SARPA letters is just the latest shocker in the escalating crisis in the Eastern Cape franchise.
New SANZAR CEO Andy Marinos has backed South Africa’s Southern Kings and Japan’s Sunwolves to cause upsets in Super Rugby 2016.
The Southern Kings have at least played a season of Super Rugby before, while the Sunwolves are making their debut as the competition expands to accommodate a side each from Japan and Argentina as well as an extra South African side.
The EP Kings’ serious financial troubles over the past few months have raised questions over their fanchise participation in the competition, but the Sunwolves have not yet named a head coach for the season while they also do not have a full player roster.
But Marinos was a voice of calm on Wednesday morning, backing the Japanese franchise to get their ducks in a row before the tournament begins at the end of February.
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has established an operational implementation task group to oversee the running of the Southern Kings franchise in Vodacom Super Rugby, SARU announced on Monday.
The group will meet in Cape Town on Wednesday to put in place the structures and processes required to take control of the running of the Southern Kings.
“We will be leaning heavily on EPRU personnel in this implementation process in due course and they are providing us with certain documentation to determine the current landscape at the franchise,” said Jurie Roux, SARU CEO.
Die Pumas van Suid-Afrika het so byna by die Superrugby-agterdeur ingeglip, maar dié unie se plan om die OP-Kings se plek in volgende jaar se kompetisie te “kaap”, is ter elfder ure deur Cheeky Watson gefnuik.
Rapport het na bewering betroubaar verneem dat Hein Mentz, die Pumas se president, ’n volledige sakeplan aan die Suid-Afrikaanse Rugbyunie (SARU) voorgelê het, waarin hulle aanbied om die Oos-Kapenaars, wat reeds maande lank verlam is deur ’n geldkrisis, in 2016 se toernooi te vervang.
Dié plan sou die Kings “tyd gee om hul geldsake uit te sorteer” en dié franchise terug op die been te kry.
Dít het onder meer ’n groot borgskap en beloftes van geleenthede vir spesifiek swart spelers bevat en het glo die steun van die Mpumalanga-regering gehad.
EP Rugby President, Cheeky Watson, held a media conference at the EP Rugby offices on Wednesday afternoon as financial issues continue to plague the union.
“This has never been about Cheeky Watson, it is about the Kings, it has always been about the Kings,” said Watson.
Watson said it was important to take note of the press release from SA Rugby issued on Tuesday 17 November 2015.
“There has always been a Plan B; I put the call in to SARU to come and bring stability, so that we can stop hemorrhaging players and focus on our preparations for Super Rugby,” he said.
Watson said he was constantly engaging with SA Rugby, including Rugby boss, Oregan Hoskins, and that the details around the implementation of the assistance still needed to be fleshed out.
“The cash flow crisis we have experienced is like a Greek tragedy. We want to thank SARU for stepping in to assist and we welcome whatever contributions they bring,” he said.
Watson said part of the intervention envisioned was to have members of the SARU mobi-unit come down to assist in support roles and bolster the Southern Kings coaching staff.
Australian James Hilterbrand, a hooker currently playing for Edinburgh in European competitions, headlines a list of 9 new signings by the Southern Kings.
This was announced on Monday, a day that another 2 players – wing Luther Obi and utility back Sylvian Mahuza – have given notice of their intent to leave the Kings, the Port Elizabeth-based franchised announced the list of new recruits.
Apart from Hilterbrand, who played 2 games for the Western Force in 2013 and 14 games for Edinburgh since joining them for the 2013 / 2014 season, they have signed a number of high-profile players.
These include duo Jurgen Visser and Louis Fouché (Vodacom Bulls), Caylib Oosthuizen (Toyota Cheetahs), SP Marais (Cell C Sharks), Stefan Watermeyer and JC Roos (Steval Pumas), Mark Richards (Emirates Lions) and Carel Greeff (ORC Griquas).
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Tuesday agreed to assist the Eastern Province Rugby Union by taking control of the Southern Kings franchise in Vodacom Super Rugby.
The action followed through a decision taken by the Executive Council of SARU some weeks ago to step into the Kings’ affairs if certain expectations were not realised.
The decision was actioned as a result of the on-going cash flow problems at the Union after the president of EP, Mr Cheeky Watson, contacted Mr Oregan Hoskins, the president of SARU, to ask him to assist.
“We gave the Kings as long as possible to resolve their issues through their own efforts but the point had been reached where they could wait no longer,” said Mr Oregan Hoskins, president of SARU.
“It is a decision we have had to take reluctantly but it is now 102 days until Vodacom Super Rugby moves into a new era with new teams and new nations taking part and we collectively agreed we could not allow South Africa’s new entrant to be under-prepared.”
The Vodacom Bulls have capitalised on the growing uncertainty surrounding the EP Kings as they signed impressive prop Lizo Gqoboka for the next few years to bolster their Super Rugby squad.
Gqoboka gave notice at the Kings after repeated non-payment of salaries at the franchise, and the Bulls swooped in to offer him a new home for the foreseeable future.
And there may well be more news in the next 48 hours as the Bulls are still after the signatures of 3 other EP Kings players – loose forwards Tim Agaba and Thembelani Bholi and winger Luther Obi. Some big decisions will be made as to their futures soon.
Gqoboka has been rated as 1 of the strongest props by the Springbok management team, who tried in vain to get him to play Super Rugby this year, after he was ignored by the franchises for the 2015 season.
But with SARU’s transformation action plan likely to be implemented much more stringently in the future, the Bulls have been pro-active in searching for good black talent to bolster their Super Rugby ranks for the coming year.
The Eastern Province Rugby Union is working tirelessly behind the scenes to address the issue of non-payment of players.
The union on Thursday confirmed that neither of the Kings’ staff nor players have yet been paid their October salaries.
“The Eastern Province Rugby Union has noted that there have been a number of issues raised in the media over the past few days, and acknowledge and apologise for our lack of proper communication on these issues,” the union said via a press statement released late on Thursday.
The non-payment of players is due to cash flow problems, the union admitted.
“These cash flow problems can be attributed to significant delays in the release of funds from a sponsorship deal that was originally announced by EP Rugby President, Cheeky Watson.
Centre Tim Whitehead has become the 1st player to walk out on the EP Kings after the union’s failure to compensate players.
The 10-day deadline for paying the players’ October salaries expired at midnight on Tuesday without any action from the Kings’ management.
This means that from a legal perspective, the players can cancel existing contracts with the Eastern Province Rugby Union and take up matters elsewhere.
Whitehead on Thursday confirmed that he has decided to leave the Kings.
The Kings financial saga just seems to get bigger and bigger, the boil getting larger and larger… the bubble waiting to burst.
This week alone we have already featured more articles about the latest financial crisis, now we hear that the EP Kings have most probably been funded by money originating from the pockets of Rate-payers in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality.
In addition, the SARPA deadline demand for the EP Kings players and staff salaries to be paid by midnight on 10 November has come and gone and the salaries have not been paid, effectively making each and every EP Kings player a free agent to source alternative placement to continue their rugby careers.
Unpaid player wages continue to mar the cash-strapped Eastern Province Rugby Union.
The union is facing a deadline from the South African Rugby Players Association (SARPA) to make player payments by Tuesday.
After problems over payments arose again at the end of October, SARPA issued a written 10-day notice for the Kings to pay outstanding salaries or face action against them.
The cash-strapped union was unable to pay players for several months earlier in the season after a lucrative sponsorship deal failed to materialise.
The union’s president Cheeky Watson reportedly travelled abroad, where he was believed to be looking into delays over a long-touted new sponsorship.
The men from Port Elizabeth had a torrid Currie Cup season, winning only 2 matches to finish 2nd from bottom on the overall Log.
They will also compete as the 6th South African franchise in an expanded Super Rugby season from next season.
The Eastern Province Kings’ injury list just keeps on growing as a further 6 players have been added to the ‘already injured’ list.
Knee injuries seems to be common among the EP Kings players – 5 players have already undergone surgery and will be out for a number of weeks – and lock Steven Sykes has now added his name to that list.
Aidon Davis (6 months), Gary van Aswegen (2 weeks), George Whitehead (2 months), Cameron Lindsay (9 months) and Luke Watson (pre-season) have all already had knee surgery and a call on Sykes’ availability for the final Round clash with DHL Western Province will be decided later in the week.
Other than Sykes, there are a further 5 players who emerged with injuries following their 27 / 48 defeat at the hands of the Vodacom Blue Bulls.
Martin Ferreira (dead leg), Tom Botha (elbow), Dwayne Kelly (hamstring strain), Tim Whitehead (AC joint) and Luther Obi (ankle sprain) will all be treated and monitored during the week.
The Eastern Province Kings, for the 3rd time this year, have taken to public protest over unpaid salaries.
The EP Kings matchday 22 wore white armbands in their 27 / 48 Currie Cup loss to the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
This move was in support of non-playing squad members who have to date not received their salaries for the month September.
On 2 occasions this year the players went on strike over unpaid wages – 1st over their June and July wages, which was eventually paid when the South African Rugby Union bailed out the EP Rugby Union, and then against in August.
It is unclear who bailed the EP Rugby Union out the 2nd time.
Flyhalf Elgar Watts will make his 1st start for the Eastern Province Kings for their match against the Vodacom Blue Bulls in Pretoria on Friday.
The talented Watts, who replaces Karlo Aspeling, has played from the bench in the Kings’ last 2 matches and now gets a chance to establish himself as the frontrunner for the pivot position.
“We feel that Elgar has picked up enough rhythm and confidence to start against the Bulls and we will be looking to him to get things going,” Kings coach Brent Janse van Rensburg said.
In 2 changes to the forwards, flank Thembelani Bholi and prop Lizo Gqoboka are back in the starting line-up, replacing Paul Schoeman and Schalk Ferreira respectively.
Eastern Province Kings flank Luke Watson will have an operation for a knee contusion, with a cartilage flap on Wednesday.
The inspirational leader has been a peripheral figure for the past 2 seasons because of injury.
The EP Kings have been struggling to build momentum and Watson’s presence would have been a huge lift for the men from the windy city.
The EP Kings released their latest injury report on Monday.
Wing Siyanda Grey is the only new injury concern after the weekend’s 9 / 20 loss to the Steval Pumas in Nelspruit.
The Xerox Golden Lions reigned over the Vodacom Blue Bulls in their ABSA Currie Cup derby on Saturday evening at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria thanks to a thrilling 36 / 28 win in their Top of the Table clash.
Johan Ackermann’s outfit consolidated their position on the Top of the Premier Division standings and at the same time opened up a 4 point lead over their Northern neighbours, who suffered their 1st defeat of the campaign.
Last year’s winners, DHL Western Province, strengthened their grip on 3rd place with a gritty 37 / 27 away win over the Cell C Sharks in Durban. Elsewhere, the ORC Griquas and the Eastern Province Kings scored their 1st wins of the competition.
In Kimberley, the Griquas prevailed 32 / 15 over the Steval Pumas while a 14-man EP Kings side defeated the Toyota Free State Cheetahs by 32 / 24 at home in Port Elizabeth.
With just 4 Rounds of ordinary league action remaining before the play-off’s, the Xerox Golden Lions are leading the race for semi-final places. They have 29 Log points, followed by the Vodacom Blue Bulls (25), DHL Western Province (20), Cell C Sharks (13), Toyota Free State Cheetahs (12), Steval Pumas (9), Eastern Province Kings (7) and ORC Griquas (6).
EP Kings (16) 32 / 24 (19) FS Cheetahs (Final Score)
The Eastern Province Kings and Toyota Free State Cheetahs did battle in the ABSA Currie Cup at
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth at 19:10 SA Time (17:10 GMT).
This was the live match discussion Article.
The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & CSN on TV in SA.
Japan’s hopes of playing in the 2016 Super Rugby tournament still appear to be doomed but their exit could also force the Southern Kings out of the expanded tournament.
The Japanese Rugby Union formed the Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA) to run the new Super Rugby team but the JSRA has struggled to sign players for the new team.
Their expectation was that the Japanese Top League teams would release players to the Super Rugby team but they don’t want to do that and instead they want the Top League to be considered at a higher level than Super Rugby.
SANZAR are believed to be so concerned about the situation in Japan that they have started discussing alternate tournament models for the 2016 season and possibly beyond.
Tournament organizers SANZAR gave Japan a deadline on 31 August last month to show a list of 20 contracted players but reports suggest that the standard of players is not at a level that will make the new Asian team competitive.
Reports in Australia say that SANZAR are now considering taking the Super Rugby licence away from Japan indefinitely.
The writing appeared to be on the wall early last month when Japan coach Eddie Jones announced that he would not be re-signing with the national side and he would not be available as the new Japanese team’s Director of Rugby.
While the Japan team’s inclusion seems unlikely it is understood that the 6th South African side, the Southern Kings are also struggling to sign a full squad and in recent months there have been financial problems and player strikes due to wages not being paid.
EP Kings Kings coach, Brent Janse van Rensburg, has called back a host of his stalwarts for friday’s match against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs.
Experienced centre Tim Whitehead will lead the EP Kings as they chase their 1st ABSA Currie Cup win this season – at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Port Elizabeth.
Regular captain Luke Watson remains sidelined with a leg injury, however, lock Steven Sykes is back from a rib problem to lead the pack.
Van Rensburg has made several changes to the team which went down to the Xerox Golden Lions in Johannesburg last weekend.
He said he believed they had the best combination to combat the Free State Cheetahs.
Whitehead is partnered by JP du Plessis in the centres and Ronnie Cooke is replaced at centre, due to a broken toe.
Sykes starts ahead of Cornell Hess, who is dropped to the bench.
Eastern Province Kings fullback Hansie Graaff was suspended for 1 match, after being found guilty of striking an opponent in their Currie Cup Premier Division clash against the Xerox Golden Lions in Johannesburg last Saturday.
As a result of the sanction he will miss the EP King’s next match against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth on Friday evening.
Following their 37 / 21 Currie Cup defeat to the Xerox Golden Lions in Johannesburg at the weekend, the EP Kings have reported new injury concerns.
- Lock Cameron Lindsay suffered a knee injury in the defeat and will see a specialist on Wednesday.
- Centre Ronnie Cooke picked up a toe injury and was sent for X-rays on Monday.
- JP du Plessis who replaced Cook, also suffered an injury. Du Plessis has a soft tissue knee injury and will be monitored during the week.
- Lock Steven Stykes – who missed last week’s clash due to a rib injury – will also be monitored during the week.
Players on the long-term injury list include flyhalf / centre Shane Gates (foot), flank Jacques Engelbrecht (hip), lock David Bulbring (shoulder), flyhalf Gary van Aswegen (knee), flank Aidon Davis (knee) and flyhalf / fullback George Whitehead (knee).
Golden Lions (27) 37 / 21 (14) EP Kings (Final Score)
The Xerox Golden Lions and Eastern Province Kings did battle in the ABSA Currie Cup at
Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg at 19:10 SA Time (17:10 GMT).
This was the live match discussion Article.
The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & M-Net on TV in SA.
The Eastern Province Kings will field a team against the Xerox Golden Lions at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
However, it does not resemble their 1st-choice 15 in any way.
It was confirmed late on Thursday that the Currie Cup Round 5 encounter in Johannesburg will go ahead, after several days of uncertainty – the result of EP Kings players going on strike over non-payment of salaries.
The South African Rugby Players Association (SARPA), when they arrived in Port Elizabeth on Thursday afternoon, were informed that the outstanding salaries had been paid.
However, the veil of secrecy remained over the entire saga, as nobody was prepared to comment.
EP Kings coach Brent Janse van Rensburg named a team that showed 10 changes from the side which lost to the Cell C Sharks last week, but he was “unavailable” to comment on the changes.
EP Kings players and the union’s management are again at loggerheads over apparent delays in player payments.
The cash-strapped union was unable to pay players for several months earlier in the season, but the issue was thought to be resolved last month when EP president Cheeky Watson announced that the players were compensated up until the end of July.
However, similar issues appear to have risen again with regards to August’s salaries, and according to CEO Charl Crous they are working at “resolving the matter”.
There is believed to be a threat of a player strike, although Crous said he received no communication in that regard.
EP Kings (13) 20 / 24 (7) Sharks (Final Score)
The Eastern Province Kings and Cell C Sharks did battle in the ABSA Currie Cup at
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth at 17:05 SA Time (15:05 GMT).
This was the live match discussion Article.
The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & M-Net on TV in SA.
Following their narrow 15 / 13 Currie Cup loss to the Steval Pumas in Port Elizabeth at the weekend, the EP Kings have a few more injury concerns.
Centre Tim Whitehead suffered concussion in the game against the Pumas and his availability for this weekend’s home game against the Sharks is in doubt.
He was cleared of symptoms, but will follow a gradual return to play protocol until Thursday. If he comes through that, then he will be cleared to face his former team.
Flyhalf George Whitehead picked up a knee injury and saw a specialist on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.
Flank Jacques Engelbrecht has a left hip pointer injury and is likely to be sidelined for the next 2 weeks, while prop Basil Short has recovered from a foot injury, but a spider bite has kept him sidelined this week.
2 Of the tournament’s pace-setters are going head-to-head on Saturday. But it is no ordinary match. It is the BIG north-south derby – the Vodacom Blue Bulls hosting DHL Western Province in the feature match of the weekend, when they meet in Pretoria on Saturday.
They are 2 of only 3 remaining unbeaten sides.
However, before we get there we have 2 Friday games – which will feature 3 teams still seeking their 1st win.
The winless Eastern Province Kings host an ambitious Steval Pumas team in Port Elizabeth, while the central unions partners (and rivals) ORC Griquas and Toyota Free State Cheetahs will meet in Kimberley.
Griquas and Cheetahs are also both still winless.
The Cell C Sharks, fresh from their 1st win of the season, host the high-flying Xerox Golden Lions in Saturday’s early match before we get to the BIG derby at Loftus Versfeld.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls are currently sitting at Top of the standings – as a result of their greater points difference over their Gauteng neighbours, the Xerox Golden Lions – with both on a full-house 10 Log points.
DHL Western Province are 1 Log point further back (9) in 3rd place.
The Cell C Sharks (5 points), Steval Pumas (4), Toyota Free State Cheetahs (1), EP Kings (1) and ORC Griquas (1) trail behind the pace-setters.
We look at all the Round 3 matches!
Luke Watson and Stefan Willemse have been withdrawn from the line-up due to leg injuries, for Friday night’s clash against the Steval Pumas at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
Unfortunately the pair have not responded to treatment as quickly as the team management had hoped. They have been replaced so as to not risk losing them for the remainder of the Currie Cup campaign.
Cameron Lindsay replaces Stefan Willemse on the bench, while Thembelani Bholi has been moved to the starting line-up in place of Luke Watson, with Paul Schoeman taking his place on the bench.
Steven Sykes will captain the team.
Loose forward Jacques “Vleis” Engelbrecht has returned to the starting line-up for the Eastern Province Kings’ clash against the Steval Pumas on Friday.
Engelbrecht, who made a name for himself in the Southern Kings’ 2013 Super Rugby season with hard hits and bulldozing runs, replaces flank Stefan Willemse on the side of the scrum.
The 30-year-old has been a welcome return to the EP side (on loan) after he departed for the Bulls at the end of 2013.
Willemse has been included on the bench, but Janse van Rensburg said the flank had a slight niggle, which they believe will clear up for Friday’s game.
As the Kings franchise looks forward to a significant period in its history, EP Rugby chief executive Charl Crous has announced a 3-year clothing sponsorship deal with BLK South Africa, beginning in 2016.
The sponsorship will coincide with the Southern Kings’ return to Super Rugby in 2016 and both parties are excited about the journey which lies ahead for rugby in the Eastern Cape region.