Is the Community Cup all that?
The build-up to the inaugural Community Cup is now in full swing, with SARU on Wednesday announcing that the new tournament – created to help sustain and improve open club rugby in South Africa – will have a big name sponsor in the form of Cell C.
With excitement building, I could not help but wonder whether the new addition to the rugby landscape would improve the club game in South Africa, or whether the tournament will create an even bigger chasm between the top tier clubs and those not competing on the grandest of stages.
As pointed out in an article written last year (The professional side of the amateur game), the amount of money being invested into the top clubs around the country is polarizing the club rugby landscape. With the top clubs being able to recruit the top players, there is little way for the smaller clubs to compete.
The question then is this: Will the new Cell C Community Cup promote the interests of club rugby in general, or only those of the select few clubs fortunate enough to participate?
The answer, to me at least, is that the polarization will continue. The gap between the haves and the have-nots will become greater, and it will become increasingly difficult for open clubs who do not participate in the Community Cup to compete in their local leagues against those who do.
The financial boost the tournament will provide for these clubs will prove difficult to compete with. The top players will find the lure of nationwide exposure (as well as the financial incentives) difficult to pass up, which will inevitably lead to the have-nots losing players to the haves.
If not managed properly, this could lead to a system where the top club from each league would be damn near impossible to dethrone, a situation which would not be healthy for club rugby in general.
The continued persistence of the wild card entries, which we have seen in the past with in Club Champs, is another bone of contention. While I do not for one moment suggest that previously disadvantaged clubs should be excluded from initiatives such as the Community Cup, I do not see how this develops the game in any way.
The previously disadvantaged clubs will inevitably recruit from their neighbors, weakening other previously disadvantaged clubs in the process. These clubs are also often not on par with the bigger clubs in the league, which could lead to big scores, as we have seen at Club Champs in the past.
One such club, Raiders (Lions Union), recently played a warm-up match against Varsity Cup newcomers Wits. They lost heavily (60-19), and with Wits losing badly to Shimlas in round one of the Varsity Cup, I am fearful of their participation against top class outfits.
While there may be many issues to the tournament, many reasons as to why it might not be in the best interests of all clubs in South Africa, there is one why it is.
And the reason is simple: It is a start. It is a stepping stone in the right direction, and while a tournament structure which would benefit all clubs would be difficult to find – and damn-near impossible to implement – I am still excited at the prospect of club rugby gaining in popularity.
As I boy club rugby was all I knew, it is where my passion for the game started, it was the start of a journey that would afford me the opportunity to see the world, to learn the lessons of life.
And I love it.
Club rugby is finally being put on the high pedestal it deserves to be on. It has, through the hard work of all those involved in community rugby, begun to regain the respect and awe of those on the outside.
Club rugby is alive and well, and it is on the way up. Let’s just hope that this initiative will benefit club rugby as a whole, not just a collective of fortunate, well financed clubs.