Southern Kings’ miserable 2020 has continued with the decision by the club’s financially stricken board to withdraw from any planned domestic competition before the end of the year, a development that places a question mark over their involvement in the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season which has a provisional October 3 start date.

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With the future of the four South African Super Rugby sides uncertain given how the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in New Zealand and Australia running domestic restart tournaments, there has been much speculation that the Stormers, Lions, Bulls and Sharks could join the PRO14 at the expense of its two existing South African participants, the Kings and the Cheetahs, who signed up in 2017 after being excluded from Super Rugby.

That speculation now appears to have some legs given the latest development in the fraught situation at the Kings where SA Rugby had to take back a 74 per cent shareholding in June after its dalliance with an outside investor came a cropper.  

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England forward Courtney Lawes guests on All Access, the RugbyPass interview series hosted by Jim Hamilton

On the pitch, the team, which hasn’t played since a March 1 home loss to Connacht, continued to struggle before the pandemic, winning just once in 13 PRO14 outings in the 2019/20 season which the South African teams have been prevented from restarting in due to the ongoing Covid restrictions in their country.    

Explaining the latest events in Port Elizabeth, Andre Rademan, chairman of the Southern Kings board, said: “Following several weeks of interrogation of the Kings’ financial state of affairs we were left with a straightforward choice.

“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 R6.5million (£300,000), which would add to the organisation’s existing substantial debt.

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“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. This may not be a popular decision but in the current circumstances it is the right decision.

“This is obviously very disappointing news for the players and management who, like all rugby professionals, were desperate to resume playing. But the board believed that further investment in 2020 with zero commercial return would be reckless in the extreme.

“As a board we had been considering further short-term contracts to see the squad through to the end of the year. 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.”

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Rademan, who is also president of the EPRU, added that 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 in June in partnership with the EPRU following the failure of the former majority shareholder (the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World) to meet its financial commitments relating to the acquisition of the shareholding.

Southern Kings timeline:

  • November 2010: SA Rugby announces intention to field the Southern Kings in Vodacom Super Rugby in 2013.
  • February 2013: Kings compete in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition as one of five South African teams.
  • August 2013: Kings lose place in Vodacom Super Rugby in a two-legged play off against the Emirates Lions.
  • November 2015: SA Rugby takes control of the franchise when EPRU, to whom the operation of the franchise had been granted, ran into financial trouble.
  • February 2016: Kings return to Vodacom Super Rugby when the competition expands to 18 teams.
  • April 2017: SANZAAR announces that Vodacom Super Rugby will contract from 18 teams to 15 teams in 2018.
  • September 2017: The Kings (and Toyota Cheetahs) are included as South Africa’s ground-breaking representatives in the Guinness PRO14 competition.
  • January 2019: GRC acquires 74% shareholding in the franchise; EPRU retain a 26% shareholding.
  • June 2020: SA Rugby resumes control of the Southern Kings following the failure of GRC to meet contractual commitments.
  • August 2020: Southern Kings withdrawn from potential domestic competition resumption because of on-going financial challenges.

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