The Southern Kings are scheduled to replace the Golden Lions as one of five South African franchises in next year’s Super 15, it was announced on Thursday.
South African Rugby Union (SARU) officials voted 26-3 in Cape Town to promote the Eastern Cape-based Kings and relegate the Johannesburg-based Lions, who finished bottom of the southern hemisphere regional championship table this year.
The Coastal Sharks, who finished runners-up this season to the Waikato Chiefs of New Zealand, semi-finalists the Western Stormers, three-time champions the Northern Bulls and the improving Central Cheetahs retain their status.
“All rugby provinces have consistently supported the need for an Eastern Cape team in the competition. That decision was first taken in 2006, but their inclusion has twice been postponed,” SARU president Oregan Hoskins said.
“The Kings 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 competition for a decade-and-a-half,” he added.
“Provinces asked for a rugby solution and we believe this was the fairest and most transparent method to respond to what is undoubtedly a less than ideal situation,” he said.
The decision to axe the lowest South African team on the table followed months of speculation, that included the Lions joining forces with another franchise and the Kings being paid to delay their elevation.
There has been ongoing political pressure to promote the Kings, who are likely to stage home fixtures at 2010 FIFA World Cup venue Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
The Eastern Cape boasts the largest number of black rugby players in the country and some officials from the ruling African National Congress party have expressed unhappiness at what they believed was the neglect of the sport in the region.
New Zealander Matt Sexton was named coach of the Kings in April last year, but the Currie Cup second-tier leaders have not announced any major signings before the big step-up to Super 15.
Softening the blow a little for the Lions, who have denied constant reports of financial problems, is the decision to have a two-leg South African promotion-relegation match at the end of each Super 15 from next year.
South African officials want six franchises in the competition when the TV deal is renegotiated after the 2015 tournament and there has also been speculation of Argentine, Japanese and Pacific islands entrants.