Johannesburg - The Community Cup was borne out of a need to revive and modernise club rugby in South Africa, SA Rugby Union (SARU) chief executive Jurie Roux said here on Wednesday.
"Today is truly a red letter day for club rugby, since the game turned professional in 1995, club rugby has been searching for its position in South African rugby," Roux said at the announcement of Cell C as sponsor to the tournament.
The seven-week competition will see the best non-university clubs from all the provinces plus five wildcard invitees battle it out for the inaugural Community Cup title in a format identical to that of the Rugby World Cup.
"Pool matches will take place at 20 club venues across the country over a five-week period, followed by play-offs for the top eight at Outeniqua Park in George over the Easter long weekend," Roux said.
The 20 teams have been divided into four pools of five, with each club playing two home and two away matches.
The top two clubs from each pool will advance to the knockout stages, with the eight teams playing quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals each year at a central venue.
Before rugby turned professional the game almost followed a natural progression from school, club to provincial and then onto national representation.
Since the advent of the professional era, club rugby had been in a steady decline.
"One of the primary roles of clubs in the amateur era was to supply players to provincial teams," Roux said.
With the launch of the Varsity Cup in 2008, student rugby experienced a resurgence with some players turning out for provinces and the Springboks.
"Professionalism changed the landscape dramatically, both for so-called open and university clubs," he said.
"The Varsity Cup has successfully revived student club rugby by providing those clubs and players with a high-level exposure platform."
The hope existed that the Community Cup would have a similar effect on club rugby in the country as the positive one Varsity Cup had on student rugby.
IRB Hall of Fame inductee Kennedy Tsimba - who coaches Rustenburg Impala - said the Community Cup was one of SARU's best initiatives yet.
The former Cheetahs and Blue Bulls flyhalf said he made his way into the South Africa rugby scene through club rugby where his talent was recognised.
"I came from professional rugby straight into the club scene, and when I got there I saw so many players that can play professional but they haven't been seen," Tsimba said.
Tsimba hoped that the tournament would be a platform for players that fell through the cracks to launch their careers in rugby.
The Community Cup, which replaced the National Club Championships, will kick-off on February 16.
The competition will culminate in an annual Grand Final to determine the overall national club champion between the winners of the Community Cup and the winners of the Varsity Cup.