Second SA group talk of takeover

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The Independent Online

A second foreign consortium planning to gatecrash England club rugby today spell out their intentions. Jason Smith, a leading Cape Town-based players' agent, fronts London South Africa and believes the potential is "massive". He is in direct competition with the cash-laden London Tribe, whose spokesman is former Bok captain Bob Skinstad.

"London South Africa RFC will offer 500,000 expats the opportunity to bond away from home," says Smith, who manages the careers of 10 current Boks. "The attraction of the business venture is to create a Springbok-type atmo-sphere in London. Building a successful club requires a solid foundation. Our foundation is the support base.

"We would like to have things in place by June next year, but if we have to wait until 2006 or 2007 then we will. Our business plan is evolving on a weekly basis. We are looking to raise capital of £8 million to invest in the first three years. If successful, we should have a quality sports brand and business with a value of £20m five years after start-up.

"The business plan is based on marketing the brand and consistent winning rugby. It is easier said than done, but I am confident that the standard of players we have in mind will suffice at each level."

As traditionalists retreat into their laager at the thought of more South Africans riding over the hill looking to set up camp, Smith offers comfort. "We had a meeting with Sir Clive Woodward on a recent visit to London and outlined that we will have at least 11 English-qualified players in every 22. The idea was taken on board by Woodward. Obviously we intend fielding some Springboks - and we will need them to beat the top teams in England. We also represent Stuart Abbott, Michael Horak, Geoff Appleford, Ryan Strudwick and Jake Boer, all whom have had a positive influence on English rugby."

While a source suggests that Rotherham (and not Orrell) is the club at the top of London Tribe's list, Smith is happy to start more modestly and work through the ranks, operating within RFU and Premier League guidelines. "We have not ruled out National League Two," he says, perhaps dropping a hint. "But whatever club we buy, we will relocate to London. We realise the need to have a stadium in the capital, and have held talks with the Loftus Road plc."

London South Africa could tug the heartstrings of the expats more than the rival consortium, which is known to have strong New Zealand links. The danger with the other bid is that London Tribe - only a working title, argues Skinstad - might struggle to sustain large crowds, as Antipodeans rarely support the same team.

Smith recognises the need for any new club to fill seats. "To be viable, we need 15,000 fans to watch us, week in and week out. I wish Skinstad and his consortium all the best. There are some impressive names linked to his plan. It is good for rugby."

With the Kolpac ruling affording South Africans the chance to work in England without a Home Office official banging on their door, the natives are getting restless at the thought of a takeover. But the potential of 15,000 fans at club matches, and an injection of South African talent to benefit England, is one which might yet appeal to those who have the final say.