SA’s only options are to retract, merge or relegate

The South African Rugby Union have left themselves with three options after they met with their Super Rugby sides on Thursday about the problem of having six contenders for five places next year.

The three options appear to be to relegate the lowest ranked Super Rugby team, merge the two lowest ranked teams or retract their promise to include the Southern Kings in Super Rugby in 2013.

SARU held talks with representatives of the five teams currently in Super 15 Rugby and the Southern Kings, and although the governing body is seeking to ensure no team would be “damaged” by a solution, it’s doubtful that can happen.

Super Rugby organizers SANZAR have regularly insisted that they are not in a position to expand the tournament to 16 teams before the end of the 2015 season.

That means something will have to give to make way for the Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who have been promised a place in 2013 by SARU.

Chief executive Greg Peters told The Associated Press there was no change to SANZAR’s stance on the number of teams, which will stay as five each from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand for the next three seasons at least.

SARU said the South African parties would meet again on Monday, while a final outcome is only expected after a meeting of the national union’s decision-making General Council on July 13.

The Johannesburg-based Lions – currently Super Rugby’s bottom team but also South Africa’s reigning Currie Cup champion – would likely be relegated if SARU decides to exclude a franchise to make way for the Kings.

The Lions could merge with the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs to form one team, although that would almost certainly cut both outfits’ income.

Lions president Kevin de Klerk told a radio station in South Africa it would be “devastating” if the Lions were relegated from the southern hemisphere’s top provincial tournament.

It would also throw in doubt the future of the Lions’ home stadium, the historic Ellis Park – venue for South Africa’s famous Nelson Mandela-inspired victory in the 1995 World Cup final.

Relegation of a side could also produce a backlash from the five current teams, who agreed to the inclusion of the Kings last year on the understanding that none of the current representatives would be “compromised.”

There were reports of a threatened boycott by the five due to the problem. The reports were denied by SARU.

“Everyone was agreed that we must secure a solution that does not damage any of the existing franchises,” SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said on Thursday following the meeting at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport.

“It is a complex issue with no easy answers and we are determined to leave no stone unturned in finding that answer. A number of options were discussed but there is currently no preferred alternative to recommend to the General Council.”

It was proposed at a meeting in January that the four highest-placed South African teams at the end of this Super 15 season be included next year along with the Kings, with the lowest relegated.

The lowest team from the end of the 2013 season onwards would then play a promotion-relegation game against the non-Super rugby team.

Neither of these proposals has yet been agreed on or adopted.

The inclusion of the Southern Kings is important to South African rugby bosses as the franchise is viewed as integral to efforts to have more black people involved in the sport.

The Eastern Cape province, where the Kings are based, is the strongest region for black rugby in South Africa and having a Super rugby team there would help SARU transform a sport that was once for whites only.

South Africa’s rugby setup is still criticized by some for being too slow to change, although progress has been made.

Events in 2012

January 27: A Special General Meeting was

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