Johannesburg - For a few moments let’s forget that the Lions aren’t part of Super Rugby this year. Let’s forget about how politics played a role in the Kings getting into Super Rugby. Let’s rather focus on why it was so important to get the Kings into Super Rugby.
If nothing else, Eastern Cape rugby needed some kind of rejuvenation. Many fine players come out of that region each year and are forced to move elsewhere to compete at the highest level. Each and every year the Craven Week teams from the Eastern Cape shine at the annual rugby week.
One of the major spin-offs of the Kings gaining entry to Super Rugby is that rugby is again alive in the Eastern Cape - and we should celebrate this.
I am sure one of the main reasons why the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, or the Madibaz, did so well in the Varsity Cup this year is because rugby has been reborn in the Eastern Cape. Just a few years ago the Madibaz were taking huge hidings each week but this season they were one of the outstanding teams and had they not missed so many kicks at goal in blustery conditions in their semifinal against Maties last Monday, they would be playing in the final against Tukkies next week.
Their turnaround was quite remarkable this year and I’m convinced it’s got everything to do with the fact the players now have something greater to strive for - Super Rugby.
I know a lot of rugby fans who were rooting for the Madibaz last week because, in a sense, we all like the underdog. They were a spirited bunch throughout the competition and if they continue to show this kind of form they will certainly boost the Kings in future and ensure rugby continues to grow in the Eastern Cape.
The rugby community is certainly feeding off each other at the moment in the Eastern Cape because not only did the Madibaz perform well in the Varsity Cup, the Kings have also performed better than anyone expected in their first season of Super Rugby. Sure, they haven’t won since their first round victory against the Western Force, and there is still a long way to go, but they haven’t been embarrassed, like so many predicted.
And let’s not forget the Eastern Cape club side, Despatch, who played in the final of the inaugural Community Cup in George on Monday, winning the tournament in stunning fashion when Monty Dumond kicked a last-gasp penalty.
The Eastern Cape is slowly regaining its place in South African rugby, which has got to be a huge positive for the country and rugby in general. It is just a shame that they were left in the dark for so long.