The Stormers are yet to take their first steps in European rugby, but the quest could be over before it starts amid reports they face being booted from the United Rugby Championship.
Four South African teams will take part in a reformatted version of the Pro14, with the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and Lions joining teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy in the URC.
But Rugby365 reported the Stormers may lose their spot to the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs unless the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) ‘get their house in order’.
It’s understood South Africa Rugby president Mark Alexander contacted WPRFU counterpart Zelt Marais, instructing him to fix his union’s finances or risk the Stormers’ URC berth.
The South Africa Rugby Union recently liquidated its WPRFU/SARU Advisory Committee, with the next step being to place the Western Province union under administration.
Their situation puts South African lawmakers in a tricky position considering the inaugural URC campaign is set to get underway on September 24—just a fortnight away.
Reports in recent weeks have referred to the WPRFU as ‘almost bankrupt’, and Alexander seemingly won’t hesitate to enforce a last-minute change in URC participants as punishment.
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Stormers coach John Dobson is already set to be without many of his South Africa internationals for the start of the season, with the Springboks currently competing in the Rugby Championship.
The franchise’s pack in particular is packed with Test-level talents, although Springboks captain Siya Kolisi departed for the Sharks earlier this year in what was a big loss to the squad.
South Africa Rugby chief executive officer Jurie Roux has also indicated the union could invoke Clause 28 of the constitution and suspend the WPRFU’s membership, as well as its funding.
Marais recently retaliated to the mounting pressure in Cape Town and assured the WPRFU “will not be bullied or held to ransom by anyone no matter what the threats.”
He also assured: “WPRFU has a solid prime asset base and if managed responsibly will ensure that it remains a thriving and prosperous rugby organization for the next 100 years or so.
The union ultimately answers to South Africa’s lawmakers, however, and Alexander’s patience with the province appears to be running thin.
Stormers supporters will be desperate for clarity on the eve of the new campaign, with the team scheduled to visit Italian outfit Bennetton in their season-opener on September 25.
The Cheetahs already have experience competing in Europe, having been axed from Super Rugby prior to joining the Pro14 alongside the Southern Kings for the 2017/18 campaign.
They spent three seasons battling European competition before the global pandemic saw them return to domestic priorities this past year.
Coach Hawies Fourie may regret loaning Ruan Pienaar and Tian Meyer to the Sharks if his side get the nod to replace the Stormers, but the Cheetahs would be only too happy to step in.
South Africa’s four clubs will be on the road visiting a variety of European opponents for the first four rounds of the URC, scheduled as such in an effort to limit Covid-19 travel protocols.
They’ll then begin hosting teams at the end of November following the autumn internationals, but whether or not the Stormers are part of that project is yet to be decided.
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