Front Row Grunt

Rugby … with cauliflower ears

passion

Kings and Maties – for the jersey!

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!

Author: Tank

Ex WP prop with a fair amount of experience in all things media ...

4 Comments

  1. In a close game like Maties/Tuks I wonder if coaches may be thinking twice about taking the (meagre) 2 points for a penalty instead of (mostly failing) to go for broke with a lineout own throw in and possible try instead. Sense prevailed for the Maties in this case, but both sides chose not to kick their penalties right up to that last gasp one. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but 2 points could be precious in a close run affair where tries are hard to come by.

  2. Imagine what will happen when WP Rugby pull their heads out their asses and starts running and managing rugby in the Western Cape with the same professionalism as the case in Pretoria. WP/Stormers will be untouchable, but hey, I suppose protecting their lucrative positions at administrative levels is more important than the bigger picture for the (lack of) “brains trust: running WP. Sadly this tail wagging the dog Mexican stand off will probably never change.

  3. Quite true Tank – feel the VC Shareholders being greedy in wanting their cake and to eat it. Sure, by putting the best talent out there Monday nights is good for TV, but then don’t bank on the young “varsity” vibe created at the fields by excited students “backing their boytjies”.

    Not all unions are either co-operative or wealthy enough to use VC as well publicised accommodation for surplus contracted players who have been mostly bought from other unions – very often this plundering done on the basis “if we take them, even if we can’t use them, then that means no-one else has got them” – and hence their huge surplus of contracted players.

    Obviously entrance requirements, and more importantly inputs required thereafter, differ hugely between Varsities whose priorities are in education providing reputable degrees, and those who’s priorities may lie in publicity generated by winning teams.

    I don’t think one can/will ever equate these spectrums – so why try?

    Interesting – in the first S’Sport Rugby that Rocks program – a Shimlas player was interviewed, his words were to the effect “….I’m doing Sports Science and its quite lekker because course and lectures are structured around not interfering with training……..”. That’s admirable because they are providing a committed sportsman with a good opportunity to study, but till the sun goes out that will never happen at Wits or UCT.

    I think this un-levellness is acceptable as long as fields are levelled elsewhere.

    Quite simple – keep to the current full-time student angles but bring in bars based on Provincial Contracts and previous Provincial experience (BTW – I understand that absolutely no contracted players are allowed in Community Cup, is that true?).

    Otherwise – call it by another name, go pro (at the risk of having a 3 team tournament), but don’t ride on the young varsity “gees” to sell the product for you.

    • Yep, Community Cup is properly amateur. No contracted players.

      Re VC – It’s a tough one because you want your young players – even the ones with contracts, to go to varsity if they can. But the reality is that a pro rugby player does not have the time to take on a full degree. And what do the non Super rugby players do until the Vodacom Cup starts?

      I think VC should remain semi amateur, in that players should be allowed bursaries to have their studies and accommodation covered. And then UCT, Maties and Wits can make a call as to how they want to handle elite athletes …