In his Sport24 column today, Tank Lanning suggests that both the Kings and Maties wins were fueled by passion, but asks if that be enough in their respective tournaments?
Take a bow you Kinky Kings! That was a start to Super Rugby that not many of us predicted for the newbies from PE. In fact, only 14% of all SuperBru players picked this win, with the average pick being Force by 11. And SuperBru is a pretty good indicator these days.
No matter the opposition (and I have a feeling that the Force are going to be shown up as the walking bonus point this year), the reaction to the win by both players and fans showed the passion for rugby in the region. Yes there has been a lot wrong with how the Kings concept has been handled by almost all parties involved, but to come through all that and sneak a win in their first game at this level – something not done by any team that has joined the tournament late – is something worth celebrating.
One got the feeling that it was about the badge and the jersey for the players, almost a throwback to the amateur era where rugby was about a community doing something they loved doing in order to share a pie and a beer afterwards – often with the opposition as well!
And there was a little of that in Maties win over Tukkies in Monday night’s Varsity Cup humdinger.
With half of last year’s SA U20 side playing for Tukkies, along with giant lock Paul Willemse – a man bought from the Lions by the Bulls, and one who is on record in saying that he wants to play for the Springboks this year – it is palpably clear to all that this side from Pretoria is a fully professional unit.
In fact, overheard at the ground on Monday evening was a comment from a Bulls official that went along the lines of “It’s great for us (the Bulls) to be able to run two concurrent squads so we can give guys like Willemse a run” implying that no longer is the Tukkies side a mere student side playing Varsity Cup rugby, it is a side being managed by the Bulls rugby union.
And yet the all student, mostly amateur Maties side were able to pull off an unlikely victory. And a bit like the Kings victory on Saturday, this down to passion, guts and wanting to do it for a common cause.
One has to wonder if this is indeed the road that Varsity Cup rugby should be traversing, though?
I am told there are two divergent camps amongst the powers that be. One says who cares about the rules regarding student eligibility and money being paid to players, let’s put the best players and standard of rugby out there on Monday nights. The other camp is more about keeping the tournament amateur, encouraging young men to study something that will help them in their post rugby careers, and letting the rugby take care of itself.
No matter which camp you find yourself in, the one thing that is clear is that the rules need to be the same for everyone. And if Varsity Cup choose the more professional path, they will eventually lose the likes of Maties, Ikeys and Wits, because those universities simply will not change their entrance requirements or downgrade their degrees on offer.
For the Kings, though, there is no debate. Super Rugby is a fully professional tournament that will see them taking on the best provincial sides in the world. With passion for the jersey and support from the community not being enough to sustain a season long campaign.
What a start, though!