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Kings take Lions' place in Super Rugby
ESPN Staff
August 16, 2012
Elton Jantjies prepares to take a penalty, Lions v Hurricanes, Super Rugby, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, March 2, 2012
The Lions will not take part in the 2013 Super Rugby season © Getty Images
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The South African Rugby Union has confirmed that the Lions will make way for the Kings ahead of the 2013 Super Rugby season.

With the Port Elizabeth-franchise already assured of a place in the southern hemisphere tournament following a SARU ruling earlier this year and hopes of an additional team joining the competition dashed by organisers SANZAR, a decision as to who was going to drop out of the competition has been expected.

Following months of deliberation and delays, it has been announced that perennial underachievers the Lions, who finished bottom of the table this year and therefore were the lowest ranked of the five South African franchises, have been relegated but will get the chance to retake their spot at the end of next season.

The Lions will take part in a two-legged play-off match against the lowest placed South African team with the winner qualifying to play in the 2014 Super Rugby campaign.

The decision to promote the Kings was taken back in January and SARU president Oregan Hoskins has admitted that it was a decision partly based on geographical necessity with the Eastern Cape region long-starved of top flight competition.

Eastern Cape boasts the largest number of black rugby players in the country and AFP reports that some officials from the ruling ANC party have expressed unhappiness at what they believed was the neglect of the sport in the region.

"All rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Super Rugby competition," said Hoskins. "That decision was first taken in 2005 but their inclusion has twice been postponed.

"We made a commitment to the Kings to include them in 2013 and rugby has delivered on that commitment. The franchise represents more clubs than any other region - apart from the Stormers - and contains numerous leading rugby schools. It has been starved of top-class rugby competition for a decade and a half and now it has the chance to show what it can do.

"The provinces asked for a rugby solution and we believe that this was the fairest and most transparent method to respond to what is undoubtedly a less than ideal situation. We also canvassed Super Rugby players before the start of the season, through the Players' Association, and this was their preferred mechanism."

SARU also confirmed that the promotion/relegation play-off would also be in place in 2014 and 2015, at which point the current broadcast rights contract expired and a different format could be considered. "We will continue to push the case for early expansion within SANZAR," added Hoskins. "Negotiations on a new broadcasting rights deal will begin shortly and the inclusion of six South African franchises will be firmly top of our agenda."

The move means that next season there will be in effect six franchises operating in South Africa but only five playing. SARU chief executive Jurie Roux claims that it was always their goal to have that number in operation.

"We operate promotion and relegation in all our Currie Cup competitions, with the bottom-placed team being relegated unless it wins a play off. Our strategic goal is to have six strong franchises covering the whole of South Africa and this decision keeps all of them in play on an annual basis."

The Lions have responded saying that they "will take time to consider this decision and then to plan our response". Lions president Kevin de Klerk commented on their relegation saying: "We are extremely disappointed at this result. This is a very unfortunate decision which will result in a team taking part in a competition without needing to qualify on rugby merits."

And the Kings also responded with some disappointment to the announcement despite them being given the nod. Their CEO Cheeky Watson claimed it was a "ludicrous decision" to only give them one year in the premier tournament.

"It doesn't make sense in rugby, not in business, not in the church," Watson said. "It doesn't make sense in any sector of society that you are sitting with a scenario that you are in Super Rugby for one year and expected to achieve. But I think we, as the South Eastern Cape, play the hand that we are dealt and we make the best of it."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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