Hard work ahead for new Southern Kings boss Robbi Kempson
Kempson under pressure to produce as Southern Kings director of rugby
New director of rugby at the Southern Kings, Robbi Kempson, had better hit the deck running.
The team now under him has to be competitive by winning at least half of their matches in the Pro 14 next season if Kempson is going to stay onside with the new equity partners.
The new equity partners, quirkily named The Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (Pty) Ltd (GRC), is rumoured to have splashed out about R45m for their 74% stake in the Kings.
They mean business, and performance is inextricably linked to their vision.
"That has been made blatantly clear to me from the equity partners. We need to be competitive," said Kempson.
"The partners are ambitious. They are ambitious about what they want out of this scenario. It is not a quick fix. It will never be, but we need to put in motion a progression plan," said Kempson, who admits it is too late to salvage this season as the Kings, going into this weekend's action, have won just two of their 17 matches.
He concedes he has his work cut out.
"From next season they want things to develop very quickly," said the former Bok prop of the equity partners. "To think we can make the play-offs next season would be ambitious, let's be honest. If we can hit our target we are moving in the right direction.
"In saying that, it is a very difficult competition, particularly when you are playing full-strength sides like Leinster, Munster and Scarlets etc."
To win at least half their games the Kings will have to operate off a solid base. A permanent home would be a good start. "The intention is definitely to go into partnership with the (Nelson Mandela Bay) Stadium and have that as our home. They have to deal with that in the boardroom."
Kempson's role in the franchise is a comprehensive one. He is perhaps in the unique position among his peers in that he reports directly to the equity partners.
"We'll work together very closely. They are running this strictly on business principles. I report directly to the subcommittee of the board. Loyiso Dotwana will be the head of that subcommittee. They in turn will report to the board.
"The commercial and rugby sides will be separate. Obviously there will be some crossover.
"I'd make recommendations and those are taken to the board for approval, like with any other business."
The part-time SuperSport commentator will have to roll up his sleeves. He is going to have to get stuck in on all fronts.
"From the junior structures to the academy we want to produce our own athletes. At the top we hope to attract high-end players that we need in Pro 14.
"We need to create a platform to retain those players in the province and also attract back guys who have left."
For that to happen, however, the Kings will have to capture hearts and minds. The team, and perhaps the region, will have to change perceptions.
"It hasn't been done in the past," he said about rugby's ability to retain or attract talent. "We need something that is sustainable. We are not looking at a two-to-three-year fix. We are looking at least at a 10-year plan, something that can drive us forward."
At the other end of the player spectrum the Southern Kings will have to be armed with personnel and a playing blueprint if they are going to become one of the redoubtable teams in Pro 14.
"That is going to be pretty important to what we are trying to achieve. Clearly you need to develop two different game plans tailored around playing in 30 degree heat and then playing in Belfast in six degrees and rain. You need a varied game plan and different personnel for that game plan."
He believes being competitive in the Pro 14 will ultimately set the franchise on a path to respectability. "I would not opt for a road back to Super Rugby. The Pro 14 is a very strong competition. If we become competitive I think Pro 14 is a better competition for us to play in," said Kempson.
He is equally bullish about the equity partnership which has given the franchise renewed hope. "They are very established businessmen in their own right. They have stringent business principles in place. They want to change the landscape in the manner in which rugby is administered in the Eastern Cape.
"They want to press upon where the rest of the world is, and now I'm talking about the northern hemisphere and All Blacks-type scenario where people are accountable from top to bottom in the entire process."..