Rugby

Newlands move on the cards

2012-03-15 15:25

Cape Town -- The ball is officially rolling on a possible move from Newlands to Cape Town Stadium by Western Province rugby.

That confirmation came on Thursday at a hastily-convened media briefing at Newlands, where mayor Patricia de Lille said that the city and rugby bosses had agreed to enter “formal exploratory talks” about a potential switch of major rugby to the larger Green Point venue which hosted matches during the 2010 soccer World Cup.

The highly significant step puts to an end, at least for the time being, the sometimes fractious relationship that has existed between the city and the WPRFU, which owns Newlands.

As De Lille put it: “There have been some fights (most notably around the intended Saracens match in the Heineken Cup at Cape Town Stadium, which was eventually cancelled – Sport24) ... but we’ve agreed bygones will be bygones and we can start afresh.”

She praised the “constructive spirit” in which the WPRFU had entered the process.

A similar conciliatory tone was largely struck by Tobie Titus, president of the rugby body, who said: “This is not an event; it is a process. It is not about us, but about the community we (serve).

“It is not an overnight issue. People need to have patience and respect the process we have embarked on. It is not going to be a matter of months ... it will be years.”

One of the biggest obstacles to a possible change of venue at this stage – Cape Town Stadium has a current capacity of around 56,000 to Newlands’ 48,000 – is the need for a greatly expanded corporate suites section at the initially soccer-geared newer facility, should rugby take occupancy there.

As Theuns Roodman, chief executive of the union, put it: “We have 300 suites here (Newlands) and they are a huge money-spinner for the union.”

In reply to a query from Sport24 over whether latest developments would affect any expansion or improvement plans at Newlands, the ageing facility which has wear-and-tear and other drawbacks, Roodman said that budget allocations for “normal maintenance” would be unaltered.

“If part of our roof blew off we would obviously want to repair it.”

Titus stressed that Newlands was more likely to be subjected to maintenance, for the comfort of existing stadium patrons, than “any expansion possibilities” in the short term.

He has occasionally appeared to come across as recalcitrant before, on the issue of a possible move, but insisted at the briefing: “I never said we would never move.

“It’s not in my lap to decide whether we go or not. We must go with facts to our constituency, our 90 clubs.”

Asked what would happen if the clubs, who are sometimes considered to wield too much power in WP rugby, refused to contemplate a move, Titus said that “we will cross that bridge when we come to it”.

A number of technical teams across all parties in the negotiations will be set up, and an appeal was made for public patience and that the process be “respected”.

“They will need the space to complete their work,” De Lille said.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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