Cape Town — The revival of club rugby will receive another boost in 2019 when a pioneering amateur provincial competition is trialled in the Western Cape.
The pilot project - a joint initiative between SA Rugby and the SWD Rugby Football Union - will see the best club players in SWD being given the opportunity to represent their municipal regions in an eight-team tournament that will take place across the length and breadth of the Garden Route (formerly Eden) and Central Karoo Districts.
The competition will be divided into two divisions, with representative teams from George, Oudtshoorn, Mossel Bay and Hessequa Local Municipalities contesting the Community Cup. Bitou, Knysna and Kannaland Local Municipalities will be joined by Central Karoo District in the Community Shield.
The pilot - which for the first time in South African rugby will see senior select teams representing their municipal regions - will kick off on September 28, 2019, with each team playing the other three sides in their division home and away.
The top two teams in each division will contest the Community Cup and Shield Finals at Outeniqua Park, George, on November 9, 2019 - the weekend after the Rugby World Cup final.
"Club and amateur grassroots rugby is undergoing a heartening revival, with the Gold Cup already providing a high-quality aspirational platform for the best non-university club sides and huge crowds flocking to clubs across the country to watch their local community heroes in action," said SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux.
"Our provincial unions have asked for the reinstatement of some form of amateur provincial rugby to act as an aspirational platform for their club players, and we believe that this pilot could offer a blueprint for how future amateur representative rugby could look.
"Unlike the old amateur provincial competitions, which mostly accommodated only a single team from each provincial union, the aim of the Community Cup and Shield is to drill down as deep as possible into our talent base and provide as many players as possible, from even the smallest villages and clubs, with a platform to display their talents.
"Each of the eight 'provincial' teams will comprise players registered with clubs geographically located within their particular local or district municipality," said Roux.
"The beauty of this concept is that a player does not have to play for a Premier League club to make his representative municipal team. If the star flyhalf of a second-league club such as Dysselsdorp is good enough, he could end up playing for Oudtshoorn against George or Mossel Bay in front of 10 000 people, including the SWD Eagles coaches and selectors."
SWD president Hennie Baartman said the Community Cup and Shield pilot would take club rugby in the province to another level and help spread the rugby gospel across the Garden Route and Central Karoo districts.
"The Gold Cup has raised the profile and standard of club rugby in SWD over the past few years," Baartman said.
"In 2018 alone, thanks to SuperSport no fewer than six of our clubs, including two second-division platteland teams in Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn, played live on TV.
What the Community Cup and Shield is going to do is take things to a whole new level.
"Now every player in the province will have an additional pathway into provincial rugby. During the league season, players will be vying for selection for their region and, after that, hopefully catch the eye of the Eagles selectors.
"It will also be a great platform for us to develop the next wave of top coaches and administrators currently doing great things in SWD club rugby," said Baartman, who added that a competition would be held for school pupils across the Southern Cape to come up with badges and kit designs for their eight new teams, with prizes on offer for the winning learners and schools.
"We want our creative youth across the Garden Route and Central Karoo to come up with kit designs and badges that will symbolise the uniqueness of each region and instil community pride not only in those amateur players who will get to wear that badge, but all the supporters as well," added Baartman.
Roux said that the pilot project, if successful, could incorporate other unions as early as 2020 and ultimately provide the blueprint for a more relevant and sustainable national amateur provincial competition.
"The Community Cup will be a SARU competition but we want individual unions to run with the concept and see it as an opportunity to grow the game in their respective regions and to proactively secure sponsorship from municipalities and local businesses," said Roux.
"Then it will become a self-sustaining venue which everyone in a particular community, from players and fans to sponsors and municipalities, feel they are a part of.
"The Central Karoo is a good example. A Central Karoo team playing in the Community Cup competition would provide the region with the perfect aspirational vehicle for players and clubs from Beaufort West to Prince Albert, and Laingsburg to Murraysburg.
"It will provide a perfect and timely springboard for future development and capacity-building joint initiatives. If successful, this concept could place club rugby at the forefront of development, not only in SWD but across the country."
The fixtures for the 2019 Community Cup and Shield will be released in due course. In order to optimally align with the SARU pilot, the 2019 SWD Premier League will kick off on March 30, with the final scheduled for September 21 at Outeniqua Park in George.