The Varsity Cup is a success. And this before we have even reached the Easter Varsity Cup weekend, to be held in George, which will see all eight participating varsities take to the field on three occasions in a return to something similar to what was once a successful National Club Champs weekend.
And it is just tremendous to see.
Sure, as an ex-Ikey player who was involved in the coaching structures at the club until as recently as last year, I may be a little biased, especially given the Cape side's amazing performance in the tournament to date, but I make this statement as an objective man of the media.
It's also a classic and satisfying "I told you so" to Saru for all of us who have been calling for money to rather be spent on club rugby instead of the white elephant that is the Vodacom Cup. This is real development of rugby, people.
The Vodacom Cup is a complete "clip on" to the SA rugby scene. Why? Because it is a watered down version of something we came to love over many, many years. Currie Cup rugby is SA provincial rugby, so when a watered down version of something so key to SA rugby is dished up to amazingly passionate and loyal fans, it's no wonder people have voted with their feet. Hands up anybody who has been to see a Vodacom Cup game this year. Okay, so the three of you can drop your hands and stop embarrassing yourself in front of your colleagues...
It's not the way forward. Surely it makes more sense to enhance a product that is already out there - thus making it more interesting, rather than use marketing gimmicks to spruce up a watered down product? And that is what the Varsity Cup has done.
Club rugby talks to smaller and more close-knit communities, so offering that community something extra is going to be appreciated. And that community then grows and becomes proud of how its team does in the competition it competes in. And I use the word "its" on purpose, because the community certainly feels some sort of ownership of that local team.
And that, to my mind, is then growing the game, as we are introducing more people to rugby...
Grow club rugby
We also grow the base of players available to real provincial rugby, and that should represent development as well, but we all know that development does not mean only that in our country. And that is why I like what they have done with the Varsity Cup. There are rules, and they are not debatable. A certain number of players have to be students, a certain number under the age of 25, and a certain number from previously disadvantaged communities. End of story. Move on. Not that it is even close to an issue in most of these varsities it has to be said.
I have heard some say that it is unfair that only students, and not all club rugby players, benefit. Well, anything that encourages people to get to varsity after school is a good thing in my book, and if players spend three years at a varsity before heading to a club to play their rugby, that is fantastic. But I do hear that point, and I hope Saru and Vodacom hear it as well. Using the Varsity Cup success as a base, would it not make sense to rather use that money from Vodacom to grow club rugby in South Africa?
But what about the jump from club rugby to Super 14 rugby I hear a few senior coaches saying, as they ponder a string of injuries that necessitate a need to spread the Super Rugby net wider than anticipated...
I have played in an Intervarsity match with all the provincial players present, and I have played in a WP vs Northern Transvaal match with all the Boks present, and I can promise you that anyone who has got through the former with any sort of credit is good enough to play Super Rugby.
I have also spoken to a number of players who have admitted that big club matches are more of a challenge than your week to week Vodacom match. And more fun to play in!
The time has come for club rugby to shine. Let's take guidance from the Varsity Cup and get passion back into rugby.
Tank is a former WP tighthead prop and now Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.
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