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Time to move on … John Dobson, Rian Oberholzer says WP Rugby can’t be destroyed because of ‘Newlands nostalgia’

From left, Stormers coach John Dobson, WP Rugby administrator Rian Oberholzer and general manager Danny Jones address the media at Cape Town Stadium on Thursday. Photo: Ashfak Mohamed

From left, Stormers coach John Dobson, WP Rugby administrator Rian Oberholzer and general manager Danny Jones address the media at Cape Town Stadium on Thursday. Photo: Ashfak Mohamed

Published Jan 19, 2023


Cape Town – The Stormers’ move to Cape Town Stadium has been a “spectacular” success, according to coach John Dobson, who says most of his players have no affiliation to Newlands rugby stadium.

Dobson’s comments come in the wake of an ongoing delay in the sale of Newlands due to a heritage site application by former Springbok captain Wynand Claassen.

The Western Province Rugby Football Union’s (WPRFU) SA Rugby-appointed administrator, Rian Oberholzer, said a successful application by Claassen “will absolutely mean the end of the WPRFU as we know it”, which is effectively the Stormers team.

Oberholzer said during a press conference at Cape Town Stadium on Thursday he was still in the dark about Claassen’s plans for Newlands, except for reports about “a museum of old apartheid rugby”, but the WPRFU have to follow the process being handled by provincial government authority Heritage Western Cape, with a final decision expected at the end of January.

The application is now at the stage of a public participation process, and Oberholzer urged WP and Stormers fans to make their voices heard against declaring Newlands a heritage site.

“The consequences of a successful heritage application will absolutely mean the end of Western Province Rugby Football Union as we know it. There is an outstanding sum of money that was received by the WPRFU from Flyt/Dreamworld (a property consortium) that needs to be repaid (of around R112 million). If Newlands cannot be sold, where is that money going to come from?” Oberholzer said.

“That would affect not only WPRFU, but obviously the company and the Stormers. So, it is important for us to build on the success of the move to Cape Town Stadium.

“The other issue is: who is going to do the upkeep of the stadium? Who is going to pay for whatever great plans Wynand has? The property still belongs to the WPRFU, which will then have some kind of obligation towards the upkeep of the stadium. But the decision was taken to mothball that stadium many years ago.

“We are also concerned about the motive of the heritage application. Somebody that’s got no affiliation to the WPRFU, no affiliation to Newlands Stadium, is now the speaker of the heritage of the stadium!

“I think he played one Test match at Newlands, so we must be careful that we don’t fall into that trap, that rhetoric that this is the history that needs to be saved by not changing the ownership of Newlands.

“Our legal opinion, from a heritage specialist, says there are absolutely no grounds on which Newlands can become a heritage site. The only, maybe, thing can be nostalgia. Are we going to destroy WPRFU because of nostalgia?

“And nostalgia of whom? A small minority that were able to go to Newlands. So, is that small grouping’s nostalgia going to destroy this proud rugby union?”

Oberholzer said even if the heritage application was unsuccessful, the WPRFU will have to start the whole process of selling Newlands from scratch in February.

WPRFU general manager (amateur rugby) Danny Jones added the union’s General Council and executive committee had previously signed off on the process to sell Newlands and move to Cape Town Stadium years ago.

Dobson said he had “amazing memories” of Newlands, with his late father Paul having also been a revered rugby historian and long-time visitor to the old ground.

But the Stormers coach said his team, who clinched the United Rugby Championship title at the Cape Town Stadium last June, wouldn’t want to go back to Newlands.

“I can tell you that from the team’s perspective, we are incredibly happy here. They have very fond memories of the Cape Town Stadium already, and they are going to make much more,” he said.

“What’s interesting is that when we came back from the Clermont game this season, we spent a couple of hours talking about the story of Western Province, and the story of where we have come from – and where we want to go.

“The whole team went into this history, and we went into the clips and know the Hamiltons and Villagers story of 1875, but Roslyns were founded on the Grand Parade only six or seven years later. Thistles was a club where a Scottish fisherman provided jerseys from the harbour, and then it was moved to District Six.

“Then the Group Areas Act came, and it was moved out to Bonteheuwel. Whatever story (of a particular club) that we’ve withstood… there was the slaves in the Moslem community, we’ve gone through colonialism, apartheid, the sports federation divide, the Boer War, the Second World War…

“And one trait that the team came up with was resilience, and moving forward. Those were what they thought the traits were.

“The most important thing for this team is that rugby survives and thrives in the Western Cape, like it has done for 150 years.

“So, any threat to that, we would take very seriously as a team. We are clear about where we are going and where we want to go.

“Suleiman Hartzenberg’s story – from Manenberg, gets an opportunity to get a better education than he may not ordinarily have got through rugby, comes through Western Province and is now a Stormer playing at Cape Town Stadium… I can assure you that Newlands is absolutely no part of his fibre whatsoever.

“I’ve got good memories there (of Newlands), but there are a lot of people – and the majority of the people – who were excluded from that stadium. My memories are great, but they were excluded: that’s the truth. And they were kept in one area…

“In fact, in my dad’s collection at home, there is a picture of the fez that Danie Craven produced to welcome the people to the south stand at Newlands, when he opened that, and they renamed it in 1984 or whatever.

“But for the team, this is where we want to be and play, and where rugby is going to thrive. If we can get 31 000 people here on 23 December, it’s going in the right direction.

“We have won 19 games in a row here, and to put us in a stadium which is antiquated, old, has got painful memories for some people, no memories for most of my team… We are very excited to be here.”