South African Club Rugby received some truly remarkable news at a meeting in Johannesburg, with the announcement of a national club championship.
This division of the South African game has long been mostly neglected, barring competitions such as the Gold Cup The decision to include it in the portfolio of SA Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, makes it the first amateur competition to be incorporated into the responsibilities of the professional arm.
An influencing factor in this decision is Erasmus’s belief that more young talent, over and above those already in the Provincial system, can stake claims for higher honours. Not all players develop at equal rates and the late bloomer all too often finds himself out on the peripheries, a victim of his delayed development at school. Yes, Varsity Cup has added a filter to the system, many graduates of that game progressing to the Provincial set up afterwards.
The current standard-bearer of this phenomenon is World Cup hero Makazole Mapimpi, who played club rugby in East London before the Kings backed him.
This development also aligns itself with SA Rugby’s plans to transform the Gold Cup into an improved nationwide knockout competition, in the process boosting club rugby across the country and helping to stem the tide of young players going overseas.
Furthermore, the number of contracted players nationally was reduced from 900 to 450 last year and the new Gold Cup model is aimed at stemming the tide of players leaving the game should they not secure contracts elsewhere.
The new format is more than loosely based on the UK’s FA Cup Football competition. One hundred and forty-four of SA’s top clubs will contest the competition on a knockout basis. The top sixteen clubs as per the respective 2019 league results will gain automatic entrance and only compete from round three and the tournament will run from March until September.
This is truly an invigorating development, with the top clubs in the SLA working towards participating and enjoying an extended stay through to September.
With this in mind, clubs across the WP are in full swing, many of whom have begun their pre-season match programme. False Bay, Villagers, UCT and Maties 2 have been competing in a round-robin tournament on consecutive Friday nights at Constantia, Groote Schuur and this week at Brookside.
Friday’s programme sees False Bay take on Maties 2, while hosts, Villager will take on UCT. Matches start at 7pm.
With the introduction of the extended Gold Cup, club rugby fans will have much to which to look forward. Not only will they see their respective clubs in fourteen league matches, but potentially another eight matches should they progress to the finals. Player depth is imperative for any club serious about fully utilizing the opportunity and spectators will relish the spirit of a competition while interacting with players and supporters from across the country.
Tygerberg RFC host Roses United of Wellington at Ravensmead in what is becoming an annual friendly day between the two clubs.