Super Rugby axing provokes contrasting reactions
By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The guillotine hanging over South African Super Rugby franchises, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, provoked different reactions on Friday as both await their culling from the southern hemisphere competition.
The pair are expected to be named in June as two of the three teams dropped as Super Rugby is trimmed from 18 to 15 sides from next year.
But imminent unemployment spurred the Kings to an upset victory over New South Wales' Waratahs in Sydney on Friday, while Cheetahs' coach Franco Smith complained that the uncertainty of his team's future was destroying their campaign.
The Kings rallied in the second half to shock an error-prone Waratahs 26-24 in Sydney to pick up only their second Super Rugby win of the season.
"It is an emotional time for us with a lot of pressure on the players and our families. We have been away from home since the announcement was made and so it had been very difficult," said captain Lionel Cronje after the victory.
The Kings, who trailed 17-7 at half-time, showed great determination to come back and score three second-half tries before the home side got a late consolation score.
The Cheetahs play the Bulls in Pretoria in a derby on Saturday with their coach calling for more mental strength.
"We are losing because of lapsing mentally," said Smith. "They are small margins so we need our mindset to change.
"Unfortunately, the off-field issues are on the players' minds. They feel that they are playing for the jobs of everyone associated with the franchise from the financial manager to the people that clean the stadium," he said.
"They feel the pressure and when it starts to come on‚ they tend to retreat into their shells and not try anything. It's been evident in a few games. Once we got the lead, the players started hoping the game would go away and they would get the win," he told reporters on Friday.
The Cheetahs have won only two of seven matches this year despite leading in five of them going in to the final 10 minutes.
It was announced earlier this month that two South African teams and one from Australia will be axed from the revamped 2018 Super Rugby competition.
Governing body SANZAAR have left it to the individual rugby unions to decide which teams to be cut, although Australia's Western Force, and the Cheetahs and Kings, are widely regarded as the most vulnerable franchises.
The drastic restructure comes amid financial losses and widespread fan discontent over the confusing and unbalanced competition.
(Editing by Neil Robinson)