THE Golden Lions Rugby Union yesterday dropped a bombshell a little over a week before their opening Currie Cup clash against the Cheetahs by terminating the contracts of backline coach Carlos Spencer and conditioning coach Wayne Taylor.
The union exercised a clause in the coaches' contracts which stated that if the team finished last in the Super Rugby series, they could be released from their contracts.
With Lions head coach John Mitchell serving his suspension as the disciplinary hearing into his management style continues, it means forwards coach Johan Ackermann - who has assumed the head coach duties in Mitchell's absence - is the only remaining member of the Super Rugby coaching team.
Mitchell was suspended in June pending an investigation into his coaching style.
The arbitration started last month, with all the players who submitted complaints about his coaching style being called in to give their account of what had happened. But the process took longer than the two days set aside and will continue in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, however, the union decided to release Spencer and Taylor - whose contracts were linked to Mitchell's - and paid them two weeks' wages and offered them flights back to New Zealand.
While this move could be construed as the union opting to begin the post-Mitchell era, it is also expected to save them a substantial sum of money.
Taylor and Spencer expressed their bitterness yesterday about the manner in which the news was conveyed to them and suggested it was offensive following their efforts to guide the team to Currie Cup glory last season and their hard work throughout the Super Rugby series, but Lions president Kevin de Klerk insisted that the union had followed the correct procedures.
"There was a clause in their contracts that gave us the right to terminate the contracts if the team finished last in Super Rugby, and following lengthy debates we opted to do so," said De Klerk. "But I have to stress that it was not an easy decision. The board of directors spoke about the matter in detail, and after considering a number of facts and the whole John Mitchell saga, we decided to follow that route."
De Klerk also said they had met Taylor and Spencer last week, when it was revealed that they could be released from their contracts.
Taylor and Spencer, however, said they received assurances from the union four weeks ago that their jobs would be safe despite Mitchell's imminent departure.
They also said they were informed only via e-mail that their contracts had been terminated.
"I received an e-mail saying my contract had been terminated with immediate effect, despite conversations a few weeks ago with the decision-makers in which they said they wanted us (himself and Spencer) to stay," said Taylor. "I am very disappointed about the manner in which this was handled."
An incensed Spencer revealed that he had received a tip-off from Taylor on Tuesday night that his head could be on the chopping block and decided to go to the union yesterday to find out where he stood.
"I was basically sent an e-mail to that effect," said Spencer. "And only a few weeks ago I was told not to worry about my job. They looked me in the eye and said there was nothing to worry about.... I don't mind being fired, but the way was it was done left a bitter taste."
De Klerk defended the manner in which the union informed Taylor and Spencer that their services were no longer required: "We followed the correct procedures in every aspect of the process. It is never pleasant to deliver such news."
De Klerk said they would rely on individuals within the union's structures to provide cover as the backline and conditioning coaches during the Currie Cup series, while Ackermann would continue in the role as head coach. Their search for another senior coach, however, will begin only once Mitchell's case has been finalised in the next few weeks.