Up for the chal­lenge

Smaller unions get to prove them­selves against fran­chise teams in Su­perS­port com­pe­ti­tion


WITH the Gri­quas, Valke and Pu­mas hav­ing all won the com­pe­ti­tion in its guise as the Vo­da­com Cup, the Su­perS­port Rugby Chal­lenge — which be­gins this week­end — is seen as a chance for the so-called smaller unions to get their own back on the big­ger unions.

The Sharks unit in the “devel­op­ment” com­pe­ti­tion will be­gin against the Gri­quas at Tafel Lager Park in Kim­ber­ley on Satur­day.

The main rea­son prof­fered for the Su­perS­port Rugby Chal­lenge pre­sent­ing an op­por­tu­nity and a play­ground for the can­non fod­der to fight back is how dis­jointed the teams linked to Su­per Rugby fran­chises and, lately, Pro 14 teams, can be in their ef­forts, ow­ing to com­pet­ing on dif­fer­ent fronts.

A great ex­am­ple from last year’s Rugby Chal­lenge tour­na­ment was how Western Province found them­selves hav­ing to re­cruit a player from club rugby a day be­fore they were due to play in the Oudt­shoorn Fes­ti­val be­cause the Storm­ers had had a last-minute in­jury cri­sis.

By con­trast, the smaller unions tend to go into the com­pe­ti­tion with set­tled, full-strength Cur­rie Cup sides that are not play­ing in other com­pe­ti­tions, while the big­ger unions are not al­ways sure who they will be able to call on from week to week as play­ers re­turn­ing from in­juries can also be foisted on them.

But the idea that the fran­chise teams are at a dis­ad­van­tage was re­jected by Peter En­gle­dow and Brent Janse van Rens­burg, who coach Gri­quas and the Pu­mas re­spec­tively, rather paint­ing a picture of a tour­na­ment whose com­pet­i­tive­ness de­fies lazy stereo­types.

“If you look at the sides which made the semi-fi­nals in last year’s tour­na­ment, a lot of those [fran­chise] teams used play­ers who had been in­volved in Su­per Rugby,” said En­gle­dow.

“We’ve got the Chee­tahs and the Sharks in our pool [cen­tral] and you never know how many of them will be re­leased to play against us, so it’s not an easy com­pe­ti­tion for us,” added En­gle­dow.

Janse van Rens­burg sang from the same hymn sheet: “I’m al­ways very cau­tious of ques­tions like that be­cause in sport any­thing can hap­pen.

“The Su­per Rugby teams have strength in depth and the guys who play against us train with them and have a syn­ergy which sees them play­ing a sim­i­lar game.

“One could ar­gue that they can be dis­jointed at times but they are in the pipe­line of the Su­per Rugby sides and play to a syn­ergy, and those play­ers want to prove that they should be play­ing Su­per Rugby.

“When they play us they throw the kitchen sink at us to prove that they are worth higher hon­ours,” said Van Rens­burg.

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