The Scarlets could find themselves playing in front of an empty stadium when they head to South Africa to face the Southern Kings in Round 9 of the Guinness Pro 14 on 26 November.
The reigning champions have already beaten the new boys once this season, but their return fixture could be a low key affair after calls in Port Elizabeth this week to boycott matches played by the SA Rugby-backed Kings.
Given a crowd of only 3,011 turned up to watch their home debut against Leinster last weekend it won’t take many fans to vote with their feet for the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth to echo with emptiness.
The row surrounds a decision taken at a meeting of the Rugby Transformation Coalition on Monday night for clubs and fans to boycott Southern Kings matches until SA Rugby hands back control of the franchise to the Eastern Province Rugby Union.
The RTC spokesman in the Eastern Cape, Qondakele Sompondo, said their call was based on the fact they believe that SA Rugby is in breach of its own constitution by continuing to run the affairs of the union.
“The call to our clubs and the greater Eastern Cape community to boycott the Southern Kings matches was considered as the last option. However, we found ourselves without an option because a democratically elected executive is now being undermined and not allowed to run its affairs – we cannot allow that in our rugby,” said Sompondo.
In 2015, in an agreement with the previous executive, SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux set up a temporary structure under the control of ex-EPRU chief executive Charl Crous to manage the affairs of the Southern Kings franchise on a temporary basis until a new executive was elected.
When a new executive took office, the mandate of the temporary structure was unilaterally extended to include all professional rugby in the province. RTC now claim there are effectively two bodies governing the game in the Eastern Cape.
“SA Rugby is in breach of its very own constitution by continuing to run professional rugby and affairs of EPRU,” claims Sompondo.
“They took away the voting rights of a democratically elected executive; placed them under illegal administration; and made them in charge of amateur rugby, while they run professional rugby.
“Saru is not only undermining this executive but our clubs because they have ignored the resolution taken by the EPRU clubs in their last union meeting, asking them to hand over the control of the union to the new executive.”
The Kings have lost their opening three games in Conference B and host Italian club Zebre Rugby in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. How many fans will turn up for that one will be interesting and SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has claimed the RTC boycott could damage rugby’s reputation.
“I am sure that the one thing the EP rugby public wants above all else is a successful and vibrant Southern Kings team of which they can be proud performing in the Guinness PRO14,” he said.
“Calls for boycotts do nothing other than further damage the reputation of the rugby people of Port Elizabeth in the eyes of South Africa and the wider rugby audience. The trouble in which the region currently finds itself was several years in the making and it will take several more months to complete the process of putting it back on its feet.”