The Southern Kings will play in the 2013 Super Rugby competition, with the Lions dropping out for at least one year, the SA Rugby Union (Saru) confirmed this afternoon.
The top four teams in the South African Conference in 2012 (Stormers, Bulls, The Sharks and the Cheetahs) would join the Southern Kings in the 2013 tournament.
The teams were confirmed after a sitting of a Saru general meeting in Cape Town today. The proposal was first tabled by the executive council in January.
A proposal that the franchise occupying the lowest log position of the five franchises at the end of 2012 be relegated, was passed.
The Lions would be the team to sit out next year, having finished at the bottom of the South African Conference.
The Lions would have a chance to regain their status in 2014.
The executive council 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 expired.
Saru president Oregan Hoskins said the decision to include an Eastern Cape franchise in the Super Rugby tournament was first made in 2005, but was twice postponed.
“All rugby provinces have been consistently in support of the need for an Eastern Cape team in the Super Rugby competition,” Hoskins said.
“We made a commitment to the Kings to include them in 2013 and rugby has delivered on that commitment.
“The franchise (Kings) 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 Australian side, Melbourne, in 2011 rather than the Southern Kings, had created a dilemma for Saru.
Hoskins said the organisation and players of the Kings had wanted a “rugby solution” to accommodate six franchises in five places and Thursday’s announcement had delivered on the promise, as hard 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.
“We will continue to push the case for early expansion within SANZAR, 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.”
Saru chief executive Jurie Roux said 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,” he said.
“We lobbied hard with our partners in Australia and New Zealand to expand to 16 teams with the inclusion of a sixth South African franchise from next season, but they had no incentive to change what has been a winning format.
“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.”