Background to the South African Rugby Union (SARU)
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) is the custodian of the Game of rugby in
South Africa. SARU was established in 1992 (as SARU) following the unification of the former SA
Rugby Board (SARB) and SA Rugby Union (SARU), paving the way for South Africa's readmission to the international arena after eight years of isolation.
SARU has as its members the 14 Provincial Unions - the Blue Bulls (Pretoria), Boland
(Wellington), Border (East London), Eastern Province (Port Elizabeth), Falcons (Johannesburg East Rand),
Free State (Bloemfontein), Golden Lions (Gauteng), Griffons (Welkom), Griqualand West
(Kimberley), Leopards (Potchefstroom), Mpumalanga (Witbank), KwaZulu-Natal (Durban), South Western
Districts (George) and Western Province (Cape Town).
The unified SARU was founded on three core principles:
- The establishment of a non-racial, non-political and democratic rugby community, both on
and off the field to ensure the levelling of the playing fields at all levels.
- The development of infrastructure and human resources potential in order to uplift the
game in disadvantaged areas and establish it in areas where it was not being played.
- To ensure that South Africa reclaimed its place amongst the world's top rugby
Over the past decade much progress has been made in growing and transforming the game
in South Africa and there have been many notable achievements.
The SARU Game Development Programme was successfully launched in 1993 with the aim of
creating opportunities for all South Africans to play the game and ensuring that the sport
is representative of the population at all levels. Over the last nine years the programme
has ensured the on-going growth of the game, especially in local communities through the
schools and clubs network.
The SARU investment in community rugby over the past 10 years has been extensive and
has provided much needed financial assistance to the 14 Provincial Unions, allowing the
growth and transformation of the game at grassroots level on a National scale.
Community rugby and the support of the 14 Provinces relies heavily on income generated
through the sale of broadcast rights, as well as sponsorship income.
This is enabling the continuance of a host of activities annually at all levels,
including Youth Weeks, talent identification programmes, elite squads, fast-tracking and
excellence programmes, rugby academies, coaching and referee development, club assistance
programmes, school and club tournaments and the establishment of women's rugby.
One of the earliest achievements was the SA Under-19 team's win at the annual FIRA
(International Amateur Rugby Federation) Junior World Championships in 1994, at the first
attempt. In subsequent years South African teams have performed consistently well in this
international event, confirming the strength of our schoolboy rugby and the important role
it has played in creating opportunities for young players, notably those from
The Springboks Rugby World Cup victory in 1995 did much to popularise and grow the game
in South Africa. The country's hosting of the event, shortly after the country's
first democratic elections in 1994, was widely commended, proving the capabilities of
South Africa's rugby administrators and the strength of its rugby infrastructure.
The introduction of the Vodacom Cup in 1998, the first senior provincial competition to
have a quota system, has created many opportunities for young players, and especially
black players, to prove their merit. Many of those first exposed to provincial rugby
through the Vodacom Cup have gone on to represent their country at the highest levels. The
14 Provinces participate in the Vodacom Cup competition.
The Springboks' Vodacom Tri-Nations victory in 1998 remains one of the greatest
highlights of the past decade. The win came at a time when the Boks were considered the
top team in the world and was part of a 17 match unbeaten Test run, which equalled the
record set by the 1965 All Blacks (New Zealand).
South Africa has consistently produced strong national teams at junior level. This is borne
out by the SA Under-21 victories in the SANZAR tournament featuring South Africa,
Australia, New Zealand and Argentina in 1999 and inaugural International Rugby Board (IRB)
Under-21 Rugby World Cup in 2002. In both instances, the SA teams have been fully
representative of the rugby population, proving the effectiveness of SARU's talent
South Africa plays a pivotal role in the growth and development of rugby on the African
continent. This is under-pinned by the SA Under-23 team's participation in the Africa
Cup in 2000 and 2001. In both instances the South African team has won the event. The
Africa Cup is played under the auspices of the Confederation of African Rugby (CAF), which
administers rugby on the African continent.
SA Rugby's hosting of the historic Conference Against Racism in 2000 and the
subsequent adoption of the SA Rugby Charter and the Vision 2003 strategy has paved the way
for the full-scale transformation and growth of rugby in South Africa.
In 2001, SARU successfully restructured itself and created a commercial arm - SA Rugby
(Pty) Ltd, preparing South African rugby for the further commercialisation of the game. SA
Rugby (Pty) Ltd’s responsibility is to ensure revenue maintenance and growth from all
commercial properties including broadcasting rights, Springbok team, brands, sponsorship,
merchandising and competitions.
In 2001, SARU successfully launched women’s rugby in South Africa. Women’s
Rugby and Sevens rugby are earmarked as the two alternative codes that can be effectively
used to take the game to new markets, a key goal of Vision 2003. The aim in the coming
years is to establish a Women’s Provincial Tournament and to participate in the next
Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2006.
Over the past few seasons, the Springbok Sevens team has maintained its position
amongst the top four in the world, earning a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in
2002 and finishing second in the IRB World Sevens Series in 2002. The popularity of Sevens
in South Africa has been aided by the introduction of schools, club and inter-provincial
competition in recent years.
In 1995, SARU played a pivotal role in the formation of SANZAR (South Africa New
Zealand Australia Rugby), which led to the introduction of the Rugby Super 14 and
Tri-Nations competitions, two of the most valuable and sought after brands in world rugby.
The Super 14 features the top regional teams from New Zealand (5), South Africa (4) and
Australia (3). The Tri-Nations is played annually between South Africa, Australia and New
Zealand with tests played on a home and away basis.
SANZAR also successfully negotiated and signed the current television rights deal with
NewsCorp in 1995 under which the rights to rugby across all three territories have been
sold. The largest portion - 40% - of total income from the deal is from South Africa,
where the rights holding broadcaster in SuperSport. The contract with NewsCorp is for 10
years to 2005.
2. Vision 2003
SARU and the Game of Rugby have been at the forefront of change in South African
sports over the past decade. Management structures and strategies have continuously been
adapted over time to move with changes to the environment and the onset of new challenges.
Throughout, however, South African rugby has consistently demonstrated its commitment to
the new South Africa, emphasising the role of the sport and the country’s National
teams in ensuring patriotism and instilling national pride. Rugby, too, is the only sport
that is able to compete and win regularly against the top teams in the world.
One of the key strategies guiding the progress of SA Rugby is Vision 2003, adopted in
2001 following widespread consultation with all rugby stakeholders. Vision 2003 sets out
the sport’s ideals for the future, taking into account milestones that must be
reached to ensure long-term survival.
SARU’s vision is for rugby to be a National Sport that represents the aspirations
of the Nation through consistent top class performance, thereby bringing the Nation
together. SARU will achieve this by:
- Developing a shared value system that is representative of the Nation
- Being the most professional sports organisation in Africa
- Being the most professional rugby organisation in the world
- Developing world-class playing skills
- Developing world-class management and customer service skills
- Developing world-class strategic alliances
The Vision 2003 strategy is based on four key imperatives - Transformation, Growth,
Winning and Financial Sustainability. The four strategic imperatives are based on the
balanced needs of SARU’s stakeholders. They are inter-dependent and therefore
success can only be possible if all four are equally achieved.
Vision 2003 - Transformation
The Transformation element of Vision 2003 relates to the organisation whereby the SARU
and SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd’s workforce should reflect the country’s demographics,
and also to teams where a premium is placed on the opportunity creation to ensure
representivity at all levels.
Targets in each area are being met by the implementation of affirmative employment and
procurement policies, as well as the implementation of quota systems at all levels, except
for the Springboks.
Quotas, which are viewed as a short-term measure, have been highly effective in
creating opportunities and proving that there is a wealth of talented black players who,
when given the chance, can hold their own at any level. SARU continuously reviews the
targets to be achieved by 2003, through a consultative process involving all stakeholders.
As part of transforming the game, South African rugby is also committed to promoting an
understanding of rugby in new markets. This is being assisted by the “Make It Your
Game” marketing and communications strategy that aims to educate people, attract them
to attending matches and using various means to inform them about the many elements of the
Vision 2003 - Growth
Continuing growth is vital to the future survival of the sport in South Africa. For
rugby to be a national sport it must appeal to and be played and/or watched by a
significant majority of the South African population. The Growth strategy therefore covers
both participants and spectators/supporters. A number of activities are already underway
to meet these objective.
It includes the Development and implementation of programmes that will ensure the
establishment of sustainable clubs. A full-time Manager: Club Rugby has been appointed
with several core projects in place including a club administration handbook and video,
the Club Aid Project and Portable Team Training Systems, which converts containers into
gyms for use by clubs.
In addition, education and training programmes are in place to hone and develop the
skills of coaches, referees and administrators, and a innovative junior and youth rugby
policy has been adopted to ensure the on-going growth of the game at schools level.
Vision 2003 - Winning
For rugby to remain a National sport, the Springbok team must retain a good measure of
world-class excellence, which is understood to mean a Springbok team that is rated in the
top three in the world.
Many programmes are in place to achieve this and SA Rugby has created a National Teams
division to manage this process. Amongst the services it provides are: the continuous
development of elite coaches through interaction with their counterparts at international
level; support services to elite players; and education and career development assistance
to top Super 14 and National players.
One of the newest developments in this area is a major new player identification and
development strategy that will carry South African rugby through to the 2011 World Cup and
aims to deliver the majority of Super 14 and Springbok players.
The programme includes the creation of a National Under-16 rugby week to run
concurrently with the existing Coca-Cola Under-18 week. After each national Under-16 week,
the 100 top players will be selected in a national green squad system. The green squad
programme will run through to Under-20 level and will ensure that SA Rugby has 500 players
- from Under-16 level through to Under-20 - under their management at all times. There
will be continuous assessment, with critical measures for retention and removal of
players. The players will be assessed, training programmes will be advised and details
kept on a national database through under-17 level.
At the conclusion of every Coca-Cola Under-18 week a new squad will be chosen, which
will also allow for late physical developers to force their way in. From this squad, the
South African schools and academy teams of 22 players each will be selected for their
international games, from which players will be selected for the FIRA Under-19 Junior
World Championships. The Under-18 and Under-19 players whom the selectors feel are
potential future Springboks will be placed in a national gold squad, which will never
exceed 20 players and will also draw from Under-20 and under-21 level.
Another key area is the establishment of rugby academies with the major objective being
the delivery of more skilled players, referees and coaches to achieve the vision, with a
special emphasis on black players, coaches and referees.
Vision 2003 - Financial Sustainability
If South African rugby is to achieve its vision it will require sustainable financial
resources. Financial sustainability is defined as having an income that exceeds the costs
associated with achieving the vision. Revenue from the sale of television rights
constitutes the major portion of the gross income of SARU and loss of this revenue will
have a domino effect on the entire rugby funding structure. A key element is ensuring that
this key area is addressed has been the restructuring of SARU and the creation of SA
Rugby (Pty) Ltd. Through the maintenance of existing revenue streams and the
identification of new revenue streams SA Rugby will be able to ensure that it achieves its
Vision 2003 targets.
Amongst the key initiative in this area are the promotion of a joint SANZAR initiative
for renewing and improving the Newscorp television rights income, the successful branding
and sponsorship of all major tournaments, the creation of successful merchandising and
publishing businesses, rationalisation of excessive loss areas through zero-based
budgeting principles and the full exploitation of rugby’s commercial potential.
3. The restructuring of SARU
Over the past ten years the game of rugby has undergone a series of
"revolutions" on a global scale, which have necessitated SARU changing the way
it conducts its business as well as how the organisation is structured.
Unification was the first revolution for SARU, whilst the second was the swift onset
of professionalism in the wake of the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Enhanced commercialism and
the need to run rugby as a business has provided the third and latest revolution.
In order to meet this challenge, SARU, in August 2001, approved the establishment of a
business arm - SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd- to manage all of its commercial activities locally and
The restructuring of SARU was necessary to allow SARU to extract maximum commercial
value from the rugby brand. The restructure ensures sound business practices and acumen,
simplifies decision-making processes and enhances the transformation and development of
There was also a need to bring the National controlling body in line with the
professional and amateur arms that have been put in place within the 14 SARU Provinces.
This has helped to ensure clearer channels of communication between the mother body and
Current SARU structure
SARU remains the custodian of the game and has the 14 provincial Unions as its
members. It remains the sole governing body for rugby in South Africa. SARU oversees Game
Development, youth and club rugby, referees, rugby academies, sevens and women’s
rugby, rules and regulations of the Game, and disciplinary procedures.
The SARU Executive Committee comprises the President, Mr Silas Nkanunu, Deputy
President, Mr Ronnie Masson, and Vice President, Mr Keith Parkinson, the Presidents of the
14 Provinces, co-opted members, and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Mveleli Ncula, who was
appointed by the SARU Executive Committee in October 2001.
The Game Development portfolio falls directly under the responsibility of the SARU CEO
and includes Coaching, High Performance, Sevens and Women’s Rugby. SARU has three
General Managers looking after Policies and Regulations, Junior and Club Rugby and
Current SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd structure
SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd manages all aspects relating to National teams, brand building and
protection, merchandising, sponsors and suppliers, media rights, marketing, tours and
tournaments, financial services and medical services.
The 15-man Board of SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd comprises SARU President Mr Silas Nkanunu as
its Chairman, Mr Ronnie Masson (Deputy President), Mr Keith Parkinson, Managing Director,
Mr Rian Oberholzer, seven SARU representatives as well as four independent Directors.
SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd’s senior management comprises the Managing Director and Deputy
Managing Director, five General Managers covering Game Operations, National Teams,
Communications, Marketing, and Finance as well as a Medical Consultant.
The Sport’s commitment to transformation is emphasised by the fact that both the
Executive Committee of SARU and the Board of Directors of SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd are
representative on a 50/50 ratio.
4. Performance Excellence Blueprint
The Restructure of SARU, and the creation of SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd has ultimately paved
the way for implementation of the Performance Excellence Blueprint, which aims to
revolutionise rugby in South Africa and restore the country’s status as one of the
top three in the world, a key element of Vision 2003.
A strong and successful Springbok team will result in the creation of a commercially
attractive and valuable brand. This will, in turn, generate revenue, including broadcast
revenue, that will enable SA Rugby to invest into its 14 Provinces and the Game. This
money will be used by SARU and the Provinces to develop talent at optimum levels to
ensure the continued strength of Springbok teams.
Developed with the assistance of leading independent management consultancy Accenture
the Performance Excellence Strategy will ensure that SA Rugby meets the increased
commercial demands faced by the sport and the need to manage rugby along more
professional, corporate principles.
Key aspects of the Performance Excellence Blueprint include:
- The restructure of the Absa Currie Cup into two strength vs strength sections with a
6 team Premier Division and 8 team Second Division, with automatic promotion/relegation,
except in RWC years. The top two teams in each section play in respective Finals.
- Contracting of four full-time Vodacom Rugby Super 14 coaches to SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd
- Replacing the existing Provincial Under-19 and Under-21 competitions with a single
Under-20 competition, split into two strength vs strength sections similar to
Bankfin-Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup
- Development of strategic plans and performance measures for each of the 14 Provinces
- The Implementation of an Elite Player Development programme at national level from
Under-16 through to Under-21
- Implement a three-year stretch reserve policy target as well as zero-based budgeting
- Enhance commercial and broadcasting managerial capacity and implement regular customer
and supporter research
The Performance Excellence Blueprint identifies the core organisational competencies
that are required for South African rugby to excel at in order to consistently outperform
the opposition. These include both Game-related core competencies such as talent
identification player conditioning, coaching, and team selection, as well as
management-related core competencies, such as; brand and marketing management, commercial
management, player management and contracting, and competition management.