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Sunday Times STLive By Liam Del Carme, 2011-12-18

Prudence takes pride of place down at Ellis Park

John Mitchell of the Lions
Image:

Golden Lions will enter the new year engaged in battles on several fronts, writes Liam Del Carme

YES, the embattled Golden Lions have initiated to-the-bone cutbacks but, no, it won't affect their ability to build on this year's Currie Cup success.

This was the fist-thumping rebuff from their equity partner and deputy president Altmann Allers to persistent suggestions that the union was unable to pay its players.

"I wonder if the rumours will go away when the players get paid this week?" Allers countered. "It is true that we are going through some financial difficulties but the players' salaries will not be affected. I don't know if it is a misunderstanding or if someone misinterpreted the situation, but we are going to meet our obligations in 2012 and beyond. We are in financial difficulty but that is exactly why we are cutting back."

The union has embarked on austerity measures they hope will make them leaner and meaner next year.

"There are a number of players whose contracts we didn't renew," he said, careful not to go into specifics. "We are in negotiations to terminate (the contracts of) 13 others. We are in the process of huge restructuring. People have been retrenched. That process is 80% complete. This is a process that should perhaps have started a while back. We are doing it as professionally as possible."

He estimates the union will have 40 to 45 senior contracted players, 30 fewer than last season.

"That is the legacy of having five different coaches in a short space of time. We had Loffie (Eugene Eloff), Hans Coetzee with Jake White, then we had Dick Muir and now John Mitchell.

"The whole idea is to get the right size. We worked closely with Sarpa (South African Rugby Players' Association). They had access to our financials," said Allers.

Sarpa has observed the Lions' plight in numbers and they seem satisfied with the methods implemented.

"The Lions face a few challenges," acknowledged Sarpa chief executive Piet Heymans. "As you can expect with new equity partners there is the need to put things under the microscope.

"The process we are following has been done in accordance with the Labour Law's accepted standards and norms. They probably had too many contracted players," said Heymans.

Another legacy likely to provide the Lions with lingering annoyance into the new year is their turned-sour equity partnership with the Guma Group.

The group intends recouping some of the funds they made available to the union during their nine-month misadventure which ended rather acrimoniously earlier this year.

"Various transactions took place from their side, a lot of which had financial implications," Allers conceded. "Obviously there are items on this account that we don't agree on. We certainly don't dispute the fact that they pumped money into the union. They also helped when we were in financial difficulty but that occurred at a time we were partners.

"There will have to prove that they are owed the amounts they claimed. We also can't pay for expenditure that wasn't approved by us," Allers insisted.

The Lions will thus go into 2012 engaged in battles on several fronts.