Cape Town Stadium switch marks new beginning for Western Province Rugby
By Ashfak Mohamed
CAPE TOWN – Newlands and Stormers Super Rugby play-offs almost never went well together.
In fact, the only quarter- or semi-final match that the home team won at the grand old ground was the 2010 last-four clash against the Waratahs, where Juan de Jongh scored a superb solo try in a 25-6 victory and a final against the Bulls at Orlando Stadium – which they lost 25-17.
The play-off bogey started at the beginning, in their first one against the Highlanders in 1999. Who could forget the player strike before the match? The disastrous build-up led to a disastrous 33-18 victory for the visitors.
The last three Super Rugby play-offs at Newlands were both a kick in the guts for the Stormers due to the manner in which they lost. In 2012, they topped the standings, and Allister Coetzee’s side were lining up a Sharks outfit that had to travel back from Brisbane, where they had beaten the Reds in a qualifier.
The Capetonians also had a week’s break before the game by virtue of being No 1, but they still went down 26-19.
In 2015, another disappointing Newlands afternoon saw a Joe Tomane hat-trick for the Brumbies sink the Stormers 39-19 in a quarter-final, while arguably the most embarrassing display came in the 2016 play-off against the Chiefs under then-new head coach Robbie Fleck, where the Kiwis ran in eight tries in a 60-21 annihilation.
The Western Province Rugby Football Union, without much fanfare, announced this week that WP and the Stormers are officially moving from Newlands to Cape Town Stadium, and will play their first match of the season against the Cheetahs on Saturday in the Preparation Series for the Rainbow Cup that starts in April.
And it’s not a moment too soon. While some people may be sad the Stormers and Western Province are leaving Newlands, I don’t feel the same.
First, for all the on-field results mentioned above – the Super Rugby heartache over many years. There is clearly something about the old ground and the pressure from the fans who are so close to the pitch that affects the players negatively.
Second, while it was a wonderful vantage point for spectators, the rest of the facilities left a lot to be desired. The ageing infrastructure was not spectator-friendly, with few exits from the stadium, a lack of amenities such as food and beverage services, and difficulties in finding parking.
And finally, Newlands was the home of apartheid rugby in the bad old days. It is a hark back to the past Springbok and Western Province teams that were not representative of the city, province and country, and which was shunned by non-racial sporting bodies such as Saru and Sacos.
WP Rugby have been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in recent months – John Dobson’s team being unable to win Super Rugby Unlocked, losing to the Sharks in the Currie Cup semi-final, captain Siya Kolisi leaving for the Sharks, and the ongoing boardroom upheaval between the union and its professional arm.
Now, let’s hope that the magnificent Cape Town Stadium can be a fresh start for everybody, on and off the field …