Thursday morning … Time for a sneak preview of Tank Lanning’s column on Sport24 today …
The news out of SARU last week about the launch the Community Cup – a new televised national tournament for non-university rugby clubs that gets going next year – had me doing a National Braai Weekend jig that would have made the Back Street boys proud, and my floorboards pretty nervous!
So club rugby might not be as dead and buried as some might believe – And that is magnificent news!
The Community Cup will replace the existing National Club Championships – won by the very impressive College Rovers last week – and gets going on 16 February 2013. It sees the country’s top 20 “open” clubs competing in a format used by the Rugby World Cup – four pools of 5 teams. Each club plays two home and two away matches over a period of five weeks, with the top two clubs from each pool then advancing to the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals at a central venue over the Easter long weekend.
Pool matches will take place in towns and cities across the country, while the play-off’s will revive the very special atmosphere of the old Easter Club Championships. The first final will be played on Easter Monday, the 1st April. And that’s no joke!
Perhaps the best news of all though – The tournament will produce a national club champion team, and they will play the winners of the Varsity Cup to see which is the fairest club of them all!
Now we just need to ditch the Vodacom Cup, start the Currie Cup earlier, and persuade the clubs not in the Community and Varsity Cup tournaments to play a knockout tournament as part of their build up to the league, which will start after the completion of the Grand Final …
And I do not mean that flippantly … Dedicating the first part of the season to club rugby (via the Varsity and Community Cups) – something I have been punting for a long time – now presents SARU with the perfect opportunity to make right the dreadful schedule caused by a pregnant Super Rugby oligopoly being plonked on an existing structure!
Do away with the Vodacom Cup (I am pretty sure the Community Cup would love that money, and perhaps more importantly, be able to offer the cellular giant something quite sexy in return, unlike the current beast), and start a 14-team Currie Cup after the “Club season” that divides into a top 6 and bottom 8 based on the 1st round log.
The Super Rugby sides do not often pull from outside their squads, especially early on in the tournament, but should they have to, the Community and Varsity Cups will be filled with top notch talent without the Vodacom Cup taking place, and with regular time on TV, pretty easy to keep an eye on.
There will be no need for promotion-relegation in the Currie Cup as each side will have a fair shout in the 14 team phase, which means no more funny names for Vodacom Cup sides and different caps for the different tournaments.
This year the Vodacom Cup final was on the 18th of May, and the first Currie Cup game on the 10th of August, so given that Super rugby coaches do not think that current club rugby players are well enough conditioned to play Super Rugby, some fringe players did not play a match for over 2 months! And while the strength vs strength Currie Cup makes sense, a six man tournament does seem kind of silly given that only 2 teams don’t make the semis … The time has come to euthanase the Vodacom Cup, while hopefully keeping that much needed sponsorship money in a sexier tournament that speaks to communities rather than watered down provinces.
And clubs not in either the Varsity or Community Cups can either play pre-season friendlies like they do at the moment, or seize the opportunity to put together their own mini pre-season tournaments or knockout comps like the Murray Cup in Durban.
It’s a perfect time to restructure the tournaments and season, and it delivers a real opportunity for clubs, sponsors, marketers, promoters, and the media to get involved in something new.
All Club Rugby reports brought to you by Mogo Sport, makers of flavoured gum guards …