The sparse crowds in George and low live TV numbers might suggest the Community Cup to have failed, but Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, believes it has added huge value.
“What is the difference between this and the old Club Champs?” asked a Tweet on Monday before Despatch beat College Rovers to become the inaugural Community Cup champions at Outeniqua Park.
And to be honest, the product on display at the Easter finals in George is very similar the old Club Champs. What is massively different, though, is how the teams got there, with the 4 pools of 5 team tournament giving to open clubs what the Varsity Cup has given to university clubs.
And this is a level in the SA rugby pyramid that needs to remain in place, but was in desperate need of some resuscitation. The Community Cup, together with some other initiatives from SARU, will provide that.
The big debate now, though, is whether club rugby should be amateur or professional, with several people suggesting to me that it just simply has to “Go pro”.
How, I ask, with tears in my baby blue eyes?
The sparse crowds in George, along with the decision to only televise the latter part of the tournament, speak to the fact that professional club rugby in South Africa is completely unsustainable, and in fact, a non starter. If the Lions RFU main issue is staving of bankruptcy, how do you expect Evergreens in George or Pretoria Police to function as professional businesses?
But this does not make it any less important a cog in the rugby pyramid …
One of the “Cape Crusaders” main gripes is that there is an impression that so called “Coloured clubs” are ignored while privileged white players are looked after in academies. Hence Allister Coetzee’s comment yesterday defending their position, saying: “We’re the only (union) using club players in our Vodacom Cup side”.
The Community Cup, together with SARU’s “ClubWise” – a post matric 5 day course and text book that aims to improve the administration at all clubs in the country, will improve this layer of rugby, thus enabling the provinces to call on club players in the future.
It will give those players who miss out on the initial nets at school another crack at getting into professional rugby, but much more importantly, help sustain one of the life bloods of this country – good old fashioned amateur rugby.
Very few players can actually make a living from the game, but that leg of the game is now firmly established, perhaps, though, at the expense of the amateur game, which no longer knows what it should be. With the waters being further muddied by the Varsity and Community Cups.
But for those who cannot make a living from rugby, the game should not be only a run around with chubbies who like a beer instead of an orange at half time. It remains a brilliant way to stay fit, play a great sport at a more than decent level which tests both your skills and decision making, make amazing friends for life, and have a local watering hole filled with likeminded people who provide a purpose for the greater community in that area.
And it takes money for even that to happen. More money than most clubs and varsities have at their disposal right now. So the money generated by the Community and Varsity Cups, together with money set aside by the profession arm of the provincial union for club rugby, needs to go into sustaining the structures that keep club rugby alive, not into the players pockets.
Sure the 1stXV might get a few hundred bucks a month to cover their costs, but what the young players get is another crack at being spotted by a union, and what the older players get is a well organised club who play a good level of rugby.