Thulas Nxesi Minister of Sport and his deputy Gerhardus Oosthuizen during the launch of the 2017 Supersport Rugby Challenge. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

PRETORIA - Domestic and amateur rugby has been handed a lifeline with the launch of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.

The competition will help in bridging the gap that was left by the now defunct Vodacom Cup with all of the 14 rugby unions including Namibia participating and running concurrently with the Super Rugby competition.

The make-up of the competition sees a new format come into play which consists of three pools of five teams each with the top two teams in each pool progressing through to the knockout stage of the competition.

In order to complete the quarter-finals line-up the two third placed finishers with the most log points will join the other teams in the knockout stages in the 10 week long competition.

While the likes of the Golden Lions, Western Province, the Sharks, Blue Bulls and Free State Cheetahs will field slightly weakened sides because of their parallel participation in Super Rugby, it will be the perfect opportunity for the smaller and less recognized unions to showcase what they can do.

In an innovative move aimed at taking the game back to the people and communities, some of the games will be played at local clubs with club matches being the curtain-raisers to the provincial games.

Continuing with the theme of breathing life into the local game, all of the matches will also be played on a Sunday with the games being played at the clubs dubbed Rugby Festivals and will be played at the Bill Jardine Stadium in Johannesburg, Impala Rugby Club in Rustenburg, Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth, Bridgton Sports in Oudtshoorn and at a venue yet to be confirmed in East London.

“A new playing day, new venues and new match schedules will set the SuperSport Rugby Challenge apart. We’re very excited to see the response to moving some of the matches away from the professional venues as the passion for the game burns brightly in our rugby heartlands. When you take rugby back to its roots, club rugby is a vital part of the mix. There is a historic link between club and provincial rugby that has largely been lost in the professional era. The SuperSport Rugby Challenge will hopefully change that by also showcasing some of South Africa’s biggest provincial club derbies,” said Saru CEO Jurie Roux at yesterday’s launch which took place at the Bill Jardine Stadium.

There is a huge emphasis by the competition sponsor SuperSport in making sure that the games are played within the communities and away from the usual stadiums with all the matches set to be televised live.

“We are involved because we believe in taking rugby back to the people,” said Gideon Khobane, SuperSport CEO.

“There’s a huge appetite for first class rugby beyond the usual centres and teams themselves have expressed a willingness to do so. This tournament will add another layer to SA rugby’s great nursery and hopefully produce players who will become heroes in their communities.”

The competition kicks off on 21 April with the first Rugby Festival coming three days later at the Wolfson Stadium where local clubs African Bombers and PE Harlequins face off followed by Border and Boland before the EP Kings play against Western Province.

Independent Media