Matt Sexton has finally turned his back on one of South Africa rugby's hot spots.
Midway through last year the former Crusaders and Canterbury hooker left his job as the Canterbury academy manager, relocating his family to Port Elizabeth to prepare the Southern Kings for their debut season in Super Rugby.
Now Sexton returns to New Zealand, citing personal reasons for not completing his contract to the end of 2014.
Within days of arriving in South Africa Sexton may have ambled down one of the Eastern Cape's beaches and heaved in a few deep breaths after learning the Johannesburg-based Lions were contesting a decision to include the Kings in the Super Rugby competition.
His organisation won that battle, but it was a sign. The Lions eventually had the last laugh - in August they won a promotion-relegation series to replace the Kings in next year's Super Rugby competition.
Behind the scenes it was apparent Sexton was always walking on shifting sand and the South African Rugby Union, probably because they wanted the Kings to fail which would allow the Lions to return, offered few concessions.
A strange saga was played out as the Kings prepared to meet the Crusaders in Christchurch in March. Days earlier Saru publicly humiliated the Kings, alleging they had fielded too many foreigners in their earlier 35-24 loss to the Chiefs.
Eventually the mess was sorted when the Kings sent two players home, recruiting two South African nationals as replacements at late notice.
"I was forewarned that it was a bit of a political beast, the Kings. There's a lot of resistance, I suppose, from a number of quarters for us to be successful," Sexton told The Press at the time.
"There's a lot of resentment too, I guess, from the Lions in having to exit the competition and they have a huge following. So not everyone is cheering for the Kings, that's for sure."
Because they were not officially endorsed by Saru until last August, the Kings were trying to shunt the proverbial up a hill with a rake.
Big-ticket players had either already committed to other teams or were reluctant to sign for an organisation that was going to only survive for a year. That forced Sexton to select many of his squad from the first-division provincial competition that is a standard below the Currie Cup.
"It has had its frustrations. When I first agreed [to join] I was under the impression it was a fait accompli that we were in for a period of time - not just one year," Sexton said in March.
"But that changed pretty quickly when I got over there. Now we just have to fight really hard and there has been obstacles at every corner to do that."
The Kings finished last. Even before they met the Lions in their two playoff matches, other South African sides had began approaching their key players. Things were also deteriorating from within.
In early August Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons, the man instrumental in recruiting Sexton, announced he was joining Scottish side Edinburgh as head coach. Brad Mooar, the ex-lawyer from Christchurch who had joined Sexton on this rugby adventure, resigned soon after.
Sexton, either because he couldn't terminate his contract or wanted to stay and enjoy the Eastern Cape spring, remained with the struggling ship.
That was until he announced that he, too, was off and there was no chance of him remaining to keep chasing the pipe dream.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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