London bid splits South Africans

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The Independent Online

The first shots in the latest South African rugby civil war have been fired, with the president of the national union, Brian van Rooyen, taking on the country's richest man, Johann Rupert. And all over a club who do not yet officially exist.

The first shots in the latest South African rugby civil war have been fired, with the president of the national union, Brian van Rooyen, taking on the country's richest man, Johann Rupert. And all over a club who do not yet officially exist.

Van Rooyen has questioned advanced plans for a consortium, backed by Rupert's millions, to seek a position in the English domestic game. "They would want our top players," the Sarfu president said, "and we must ask why South Africans want to invest there if funds could be applied domestically. Apart from Johann Rupert, no one has spoken to me about London Tribe. There is something fundamentally wrong in the way they are doing their business."

Rupert was reportedly offended by Van Rooyen's comments and his threats to consult the new sports minister, Makhenkhesi Sithole, over the creation of London Tribe. "The charter of the club makes it clear we are not out to steal players away from South African rugby - in fact, I have offered to help the SA Rugby Academy," Rupert said. "When I spoke to Van Rooyen two weeks ago he was not at all opposed to the concept. I am completely aghast at his sudden about-turn."

While two of South African sport's heavyweights slug it out - Van Rooyen is also considering making a personal appeal to the Rugby Football Union to stop the venture - plans are rolling for the consortium to buy out an English club. Craig Livingstone, the agent whose company will do most of the player recruitment, is confident London Tribe (only a working title) will be a bona fide rugby club "within the next three to four weeks".

Livingstone finds himself in the position to recruit some seriously competitive sorts, and there is no disguising the consortium's ambition: they want to be playing in the English League structure at the beginning of the new season in September and be a Premiership force before 2007. The team will comprise smatterings of South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders and English-qualified players.

Cash-strapped Wakefield, relegated from National League One to Two at the end of the last term, remain the obvious club earmarked for a buy-out. Pending RFU approval, they would then relocate to London. The announcement of the purchase could even be made at their annual general meeting next month.

Another club linked with London Tribe in recent weeks are Rotherham, and news of their yet-to-be-confirmed relegation from the Premiership would have pricked the ears of the former Springbok captain Bob Skinstad, the players' face of the consortium. However, given Rotherham's fresh appointments to their coaching staff, the club would appear to be off-limits.

Skinstad, currently in Cardiff, is frantically lobbying behind the scenes for support, but ultimately the RFU will have the final say on whether or not to allow a consortium to buy an existing franchise and move their ground to London, possibly Loftus Road.

The second of the two South African consortiums with similar intentions, London SA, are monitoring devel-opments. They do not have the ready cash of London Tribe, but are tiptoeing along in their own pursuit of a club.

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