It's all happening in SA where the new Super Rugby franchise, the Southern Kings are in disarray, while the Stormers have missed out on John Mitchell. Thankfully, we have Schalk Burger...
SUPER RUGBY SHAMBLES
The 2016 revamped Super Rugby tournament is only two months away and at the time of writing Japan’s franchise, the Sunwolves, were still in search of a coach and a core group of contracted players. In South Africa things are not much better after the South African Rugby Union (SARU) had to step in and take over the running of the Southern Kings.
The Southern Kings franchise are theoretically supposed to be under the management of the Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU). But that organisation is bankrupt with player’s salaries continuously going unpaid. SARU eventually had to take over the running of the franchise, but the union still has to manage its own affairs. The upshot is that SARU’s Rugby Department general manager Rassie Erasmus, has taken over as a de facto director of rugby for the Southern Kings. Erasmus appointed former SA under-20 assistant coach Deon Davids as Kings head coach. SARU has also so far contracted 20 players to the Kings (still woefully short of a full playing roster), and formed a new company to run the Super Rugby outfit.
“There has been a lot of overheated speculation about all manner of things but we have not lost sight of our responsibility,” SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said.
“Our only desire has been to rescue the Southern Kings from the parlous state in which they found themselves and put together a competitive squad to represent the people of the Eastern Cape with pride in Super Rugby.
“A new company has had to be formed to do that and with the assistance of the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) we have signed a number of the Eastern Province Kings whom our Rugby Department identified as fitting into a Super Rugby squad.
“Our implementation team is in discussions with other unions and players to complete the signing of the squad that we have in mind.”
STORMERS LET ANOTHER BIG FISH SLIP AWAY
Former Springbok centre Robbie Fleck was named as Stormers interim head coach following Eddie Jones’ departure after a two-week tenure as Stormers mentor.
Jones had barely unpacked his suitcase before the Rugby Football Union (RFU) made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) director of rugby Gert Smal was left embarrassed by Jones’ departure and vowed to find another heavyweight coach to take the franchise forward as Allister Coetzee’s replacement.
Smal targeted former All Black coach John Mitchell, who has the experience and the philosophy of playing an attacking brand of rugby that the Stormers are looking to implement in 2016. Mitchell flew to Cape Town and it was all but a done deal, until several amateur, elected officials on the WPRFU board decided against it. Smal was sideswiped by the very men that employ him to make big rugby decisions and they instead insisted that long-time assistant coach Fleck be made interim head coach. Mitchell was phlegmatic at the 11th hour turn of events. “We could not come to an agreement,” Mitchell said. “There was too much politics. At least this long, long process played itself out. I would never go into anything unless there was unanimous support from the board.”
Smal might have to reconsider his position, while Fleck knows he wasn’t first or second choice. That will be a tough burden to carry if results don’t go his way.
BURGER IN LINE FOR SA PLAYER OF THE YEAR
You can’t keep Schalk Burger down. After near death in 2013, he is among the five nominees for the 2015 SA Player of the Year title after another stellar season.
The 32-year-old was one of the stand out performers at Rugby World Cup 2015 and could win his third gong when the winner is announced early next year.
Burger won his first player of the year award as a 21-year-old in 2004 when he took the crown after a blistering season in which the Boks won the Tri-Nations as well. He was also rewarded with the World Player of the Year crown.
In 2011 in the immediate aftermath of a failed Rugby World Cup, Burger again won the SA title. Little did he know it then, but his career would almost come to end in the ensuing 24 months.
After sustaining a knee injury in the early part of 2012, Burger had set back after set back, culminating in bacterial meningitis that nearly took his life in mid 2013. Making it back on to the field was an achievement. Making it back to the pinnacle of the game defied logic.
Earlier this year, at the Laureus Sports Awards (the Oscars of sport) Burger received the comeback of the year award and since then he has been in excellent form for the Springboks.
He was one of the stand out performers at the recent World Cup making the most carries (96) and making the second most tackles (75) and the third most offloads (8). But even so he faces stiff competition.
Fellow Boks Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende are also up for the award alongside uncapped Lions flank Jaco Kriel.
BLITZBOKS WIN INAUGURAL CAPE TOWN SEVENS TITLE
Over 106,000 people attended the inaugural Cape Town leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series and were rewarded with victory by the home team.
The latest stop of the 10-city Series was a raging success with World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper declaring Cape Town the “new sevens rugby capital.”
The Blitzboks overcame a first day 14-12 loss to Kenya in the Pool phase to win beat Argentina 29-14 in the final after seeing off Australia and France in the quarterfinals and the semi-final.
The Cape Town Stadium in Greenpoint, built for the 2010 football World Cup, provided a spectacular setting in the heart of the city.
The city has been trying to entice Western Province and the Stormers to make the state-of-the-art facility their new home, but discussions have broken down over lease and rent terms. After the success of the Sevens there is a renewed energy to make the move happen.