Lions axed from Super Rugby
It's official: The South African Rugby Union on Thursday confirmed that the Kings will replace the Lions in Super Rugby next year.
A SARU General Meeting of the member provinces decided that the top four teams in the South African Conference in 2012 (Stormers, Bulls, Sharks and Cheetahs) will join the Southern Kings in the 2013 tournament.
The teams were confirmed after the General Meeting accepted a proposal first tabled by the Executive Council in January. The proposal was that: "The franchise occupying the lowest log position of the five franchises at the end of 2012 would be relegated."
The Lions, who finished bottom of the South African conference, will have the chance to regain their status in 12 months' time.
The Executive Council had previously determined that the bottom team in 2013 would play in a two-legged promotion and relegation series against the relegated franchise. The promotion/relegation series will also be in place in 2014 and 2015 - at which point the broadcast contract expires.
"All rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Super Rugby competition," said SARU President Oregan 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."
Hoskins said that SANZAR's decision to grant the 15th franchise to Melbourne in 2011 - rather than the Southern Kings - had created a dilemma for SARU. He said that the organisation and players had wanted a "rugby solution" to accommodate six franchises in five places and this had been delivered, as challenging as it was for the relegated team.
"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," he said.
"We also canvassed Super Rugby players before the start of the season, through the Players' Association, and this was their preferred mechanism. Jurie Roux, the CEO of SARU, said that the decision to apply a promotion and relegation system from 2013 was standard practice in sport.
"We operate promotion and relegation in all our Currie Cup competitions, with the bottom-placed team being relegated unless it wins a play off," said Roux. "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."