Soweto ready with another warm em­brace for rugby

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - STAFF RE­PORTER

SOWETO has seen many a land­mark day of tri­umph and tragedy in South Africa’s rich his­tory, but Satur­day May 22, 2010 is one that stands out as one of the iconic town­ship’s finest.

It was the day the boere­wors, brandy and bil­tong of the Blue Bulls and their le­gion of fans de­scended on Or­lando for a joy­ous in­va­sion – and on-thep­itch an­ni­hi­la­tion – of New Zealand’s Cru­saders in an epic Su­per Rugby semi-fi­nal.

Soweto’s place in Bulls rugby folk­lore was se­cured when the Bulls re­turned the fol­low­ing week to beat the Storm­ers to clinch the Su­per Rugby ti­tle to in­cred­u­lous, deliri­ous Soweto scenes.

Never be­fore had so many fans of a sport tra­di­tion­ally sup­ported by white South Africans come in such num­bers for a rugby match to a black town­ship – and been so warmly and heartily wel­comed.

And this Fri­day night, rugby re­turns to Or­lando for an ex­cit­ing dou­ble-header that pits the ex­cit­ing SA “A” team against the French Bar­bar­ians, as well as a clash be­tween the lo­cal rugby jug­ger­nauts of the Vo­da­com Blue Bulls against the high-fly­ing Xerox Golden Lions.

Gaut­eng Pre­mier David Makhura has long iden­ti­fied sport as one of the ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tors in unit­ing a very di­verse province and he has been one of the driv­ers be­hind rugby’s re­turn to Soweto, as the Gaut­eng provin­cial gov­ern­ment part­nered SA Rugby for this ground-break­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion.

International rugby stars such as France’s favourite, Frédéric Micha­lak will be on show in Soweto for as lit­tle as R40 against an ex­cit­ing SA “A” team with play­ers such as Lwazi Mvovo, Sikhum­buzo Not­she and Uzair Cassiem.

While the Bulls will rel­ish their Soweto re­turn, Fri­day night also gives the Lions, who have in re­cent years been South Africa’s most ex­cit­ing rugby fran­chise, the chance to show and re­ceive some love from what af­ter all is their “home” crowd.

“The re­turn of rugby to Soweto is not only about the 80 min­utes of play on the pitch, but also about us­ing sport to move the coun­try for­ward and to re­alise we can get to­gether and be­gin to find so­lu­tions to our chal­lenges, the pre­mier said.

“Our com­mon love of sport has been one of the lead­ing vi­able ve­hi­cles proudly bring­ing South Africans to­gether, and rugby’s re­turn to Soweto will ben­e­fit the growth of rugby both on and off the field.

“Tak­ing the game to the town­ship is part of the pro­gramme to sup­port emerg­ing town­ship en­trepreneurs by sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­ness and cre­at­ing jobs. It is also about open­ing a two-way win­dow of op­por­tu­ni­ties for those who have an in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing the town­ship and also for those who live there,” said Makhura.

The Pre­mier’s So­cial Co­he­sion Games has been a ma­jor ve­hi­cle for Makhura to ac­knowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tion of sport in break­ing down bar­ri­ers, while the pre­mier also used sport and sport stars to tackle the chal­lenges of racism, xeno­pho­bia and gen­der vi­o­lence.

“Gaut­eng is the home of peo­ple who are not only pas­sion­ate about their cham­pion sport­ing teams, but who also have the love of the out­doors and at­mos­phere of unity. Just like pre­vi­ously when we had the rugby event in Soweto, we once more hope for a suc­cess­ful event which will go a long way to con­tribut­ing to­wards our so­cial fab­ric.

. The Lions-Bulls game kicks off at 5pm and SA “A” play the Bar­bar­ians at 8pm.

CEL­E­BRAT­ING: Fans visit a she­been in Soweto in 2010 dur­ing the Vo­da­com Su­per 14 fi­nal of the Blue Bulls vs Storm­ers.

FUN: Fans en­joy­ing them­selves.

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