So as the country gears up for what will no doubt be a slightly sobering Super 14 given the return of the All Blacks and the departure of several Boks to Europe in order to earn a currency that can indeed purchase you a little more than a Big Mac; it was a lunch on Saturday at the Forresters Arms, that famous Cape Town pub, that brought my focus a little closer to home...
I have chosen not to commit to coaching this year given the arrival of what I hope to be a future big-tackling, loosehead-gobbling, tighthead prop next month (yes, you should feel for my poor wife). But I will remain close to the Ikeys as my Under-20 head coach from last year, John Dobson, will be taking the first team this year. So it was with much anticipation, and a fairly big thirst, that I joined them for a post pre-season sweat inducer at the Newlands pub.
That morning they had been divided into teams of six and given five hours to get from the Groote Schuur fields to the top of Table Mountain and back, all while performing grueling quad, lat and pec fatiguing exercises at various stops along the way. Not even an optically-soothing female task master in hot pants barking out orders could mask the pain.
So surely a loud and raucous beer swilling social extravaganza at Forries to celebrate getting through that saga? I mean - that is exactly what we used to do after being forced on any form of pre-season fat burner...
Nope, instead a focused bunch of young men, many of them part of the Under-20 group I was involved with last year, munching on much needed carbs while enjoying the odd Windhoek Light...
And chatting to them during the meal, it was all about dropping those final few kilograms, using the pre-season to add an extra kg or two of muscle, chatting to the specialists about honing their specific skills, and making a name for themselves during the inaugural 'Monday Night Rugby' tournament.
You might have read about the tournament late last year. It is a concept derived from the very successful Monday Night Football in the United States, which will become a reality with the help of First National Bank and Saru.
The FNB Varsity Cup kicks off on February 18 and sees the Top 8 Universities in the country take part in the inaugural year, with one of the matches, all played on a Monday night, broadcast live on television.
All eight teams will also play three league fixtures in George over the Easter weekend - a concept derived from the successful model of the old Durban Club Championships - and this will be followed by two semi-finals and a final, with teams and venues being determined by whoever has the most log points.
So basically before the Easter weekend, each team plays four fixtures (two home, two away) on a Monday night. Teams fly out on Sunday evening, and back on the Tuesday morning, so will need to take that Monday off varsity. They then play their remaining three fixtures at a "club champs" type tournament in George. The semis and final will then be played in the weeks after the Easter tournament.
The tournament is open to players under 25 years of age and the timing allows teams to take part in their local leagues and other Saru fixtures as well. I believe it to be a fantastic innovation so giant congratulations and thanks to FNB and sub-sponsors Steinhoff International, Castle Lager and Canterbury.
The Vodacom Cup, to my mind, is tired, and our club scene, where the Universities ply their trade in their respective geographic regions, has been on a steady decline for a long time now. And as a big believer in club rugby being the way to grow and develop rugby in SA as it talks to specific communities who share the same ideals, it's fantastic to see something like this being done at this level.
In the past, a SA universities team would play an SA Under-23 side, but that fixture, to my knowledge, has not taken place for a long time now. Perhaps something along those lines will be revived in the form a team being picked at the conclusion of this tournament? It would be great to see a SA Universities team take on a touring side in August as part of the in-coming tours.
I really am chuffed to see this happening and hope to see it as the start of a rejuvenation of the club rugby scene.
Tank is a former WP tighthead prop and now Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.
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