JOHANNESBURG – It’s been quite a week in rugby. Everyone who knows anything about religion and rugby has had their say about Israel Folau’s comments and what should happen to him, the All Blacks have lost Damian McKenzie to injury and the Sharks produced arguably one of their worst ever performances in going down to the Jaguares in Durban.
The BlitzBoks though gave SA rugby fans something to cheer about when they pulled off a comeback of epic proportions to beat Fiji and win the Singapore leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series, but they sadly did so in front of only a handful of people.
Crowd attendance levels at some venues have become so poor that it simply makes no sense for certain events to take place there anymore.
Singapore is one of those venues, and the numbers are just as bad when the Sunwolves rock up in town.
There are other venues, from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth to Pretoria to Durban where one’s got to wonder whether it’s worth actually hosting provincial matches.
The numbers are so low and it brings me to smaller competitions and events like the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, the Gold Cup and schoolboy rugby clashes that almost always draw big crowds.
Sure, we’re not talking about tens of thousands, numbers that would pack out a big stadium, but enough numbers to give the event a vibe, an atmosphere, and ensure the home team feels they have a big support group behind them.
It’s one of the big plus points of the Varsity Cup, the Gold Cup and other “amateur” competitions.
I don’t know who the decision-makers are of where Super Rugby matches get played - whether it’s Sanzaar or SA Rugby in South Africa or the individual franchises - but I firmly believe it’s worth considering taking some of the games to smaller venues.
Take the “big games” to different locations, add in a few curtain-raisers of school or club teams from the area taking each other on, bring in the food trucks, and get the local community involved.
Drop the ticket prices, make it a fun day and get the numbers in.
This Easter weekend several schools across South Africa, but particularly in Gauteng, will host rugby and hockey festivals, like they’ve done for years.
Not only will hundreds of young sports stars of the future be out to make a name for themselves; those events will be well attended and there will be a vibe and a happy atmosphere at all of them.
Yes, these once-a-year festivals are unique events, but they wouldn’t nearly be as successful as they are if they were staged in big stadiums, because there’d be no intimacy and no “local feel”.
It’s been a rocky few days and weeks for many South African rugby fans, with the Super Rugby teams not performing nearly as well as they should.
So, to experience something a little bit different perhaps it’s worth considering heading to one of the schoolboy rugby festivals in your area this weekend. Grab a beer with your friends, sit back in the warm autumn sun and just enjoy a good day out.
The rugby’s normally also pretty darn good.@jacq_west