Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - They
say the “stadium experience” is what really counts nowadays for increasingly
discerning, demanding and often more selective attenders of significant
If that is applicable
in the Western Cape, as much as anywhere else, then ageing, so noticeably
decaying Newlands rugby ground, for all the richness of its history, really is
doomed to extinction.
pre-season “Super Hero Sunday” double-header, featuring all four South African
franchises in Super Rugby, was a massive success in all respects at altogether
more spacious and modern Cape Town Stadium at the weekend … and that despite
the already-known fact that most of the quartet were going to keep the very
cream of their personnel (or read, frontline Springboks) cocooned for the start
of the competition-proper in just under a fortnight.
A full house
of well over 50 000 - a figure you so seldom see at the country’s major venues
in the SANZAAR tournament these days - revelled in the novel, Marvel-character
themed event, which saw the hometown Stormers pip the Bulls 33-28 in the main
fixture and the Lions similarly edge out the Sharks 19-14.
the greater sense of pitch-side spaciousness as well, several peripheral
activities - including a celebrity and media-infused Cycle-a-thon in aid of the
Childhood Cancer Foundation (CHOC) - went down a treat.
built just ahead of the 2010 football World Cup also has appreciably better
acoustics than Newlands, which meant that mid-game musical interventions ensured
a pulsating atmosphere in the stands, while there is also easier access to food
and beverage due to the less claustrophobic exit points and broader walkways
behind the stands.
Newlands has its own well-rooted lobby of devotees and sentimentalists, and
generates a thunderous atmosphere of its own when full (primarily because the vintage
design means spectators are largely close to the action and jam-packed
together), Sunday was effectively another bullet to the head of the southern
everybody appears to have a decent view of the game,” a popular Bok of the much
earlier 2000s remarked to me during the Stormers-Bulls showpiece at the more
oval-shaped, up-to-the-minute facility, while wary not to downplay his
affection for Newlands.
As it is, it
is widely believed that Newlands staged its final Test when the Boks hosted
England in the dead-rubber third encounter last year; national umbrella body SA
Rugby have long been partial to Cape Town Stadium for events under its
jurisdiction, including even relatively minor occasions like press conferences,
Bok practice sessions and the like.
The city has
no Test at all during 2019, when the Springboks play a leaner programme of
matches due to the World Cup in Japan nearer the end of the year, but there has
been widespread speculation that when it almost certainly returns to favour in
2020, any international then will be hosted at the Green Point-based bowl.
clearly lucrative pre-season festival, quite likely to earn a repeat nod next
year, was also simply a further case of seaside Cape Town Stadium producing the
goods as a crowd-puller - from relatively skimpy opportunities thus far -- for
the odd-shaped ball-game.
staged four South African legs of the World Sevens Series in a row since
2015/16, with “sold out” status a common phenomenon and widespread acceptance
that it has become one of the most appealing in public enjoyment terms on the
As far the likely
(many prefer to employ the word “inevitable”) switch of Stormers/WP rugby to
Cape Town Stadium is concerned, the process has been painstaking and marked by
a general impasse for years between WP Rugby - who wholly own their existing
headquarters on the other side of the mountain -- and the City of Cape Town.
meantime Newlands, on its challengingly tight plot of land, slips further into
a situation where no visible signs of desperately-needed modernisation take
place, hardly helped by the parlous financial and “political” state of WP Rugby
which only aggravates the lack of willingness to spend meaningful money on a
A few months
before he stepped down from office recently, then-WPRFU president Thelo
Wakefield was quoted as saying in late September: “It is a fact that we will
move across to Cape Town Stadium ... it is world-class, a very modern stadium,
and modern professional rugby players demand that.
develop Newlands (instead) into a business entity ... Stormers and Currie Cup
(Western Province) will play at Cape Town Stadium.”
indicated then that it would not be this year, but “it could be the year after
former vice- and deputy-president Zelt Marais swept into the supremo’s role late
last year, but he has almost immediately been distracted by a potentially
crippling feud at Newlands over the status of Stormers coaching staff member
others on the panel of “discrimination” against him last season, although an
independent probe found no wrongdoing and it has been reported that the
overwhelming majority of the professional playing staff want him removed.
however, is thought to be part of a violently conflicting quest to instead have
him replace Gert Smal as director of rugby, which has the potential for severe
disharmony on the very eve of Super Rugby 2019.
But he was
in attendance at buzzing Super Hero Day across town on Sunday, and may well
realise that speedier resolution of the venue-shift issue is another matter to
bring considerably nearer the top of his formidable “to do” pile.
Stadium as the primary home of rugby in the city just seems so much closer to logical,
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