New Boks could surface from the backwaters
ROM Loftus to Carisbrook, from Newlands to the Sydney Football Stadium, from King’s Park to Eden Park, from Kathu to Zwide they’ve all been at it — muddied oafs straining and sweating to prepare for the new season.
Kathu and Zwide? Yes, also Polokwane, White River, Rustenburg, Brakpan and some other far-flung places.
The launch of the new Community Cup for clubs adds an exciting dimension to the landscape as officials prepare to open the sluice gates to unleash a torrent of rugby.
Habitants of the upper echelons in Super Rugby have been hard at it since December, building on the old, introducing the new, either nursing battered bodies or nurturing big dreams in eager young minds about the weeks ahead.
The Cell-C Community Cup — a Saru initiative driven by Duane Heath, editor of SA Rugby ’ s world-best annual, to revive club rugby by piggybacking on the immense
Fsuccess of the Varsity Cup — is in another world compared with the glitz and glamour of Super Rugby.
But who can tell what ambitions might germinate, what talents might flower, given the opportunity to travel, play games at places never dreamed of and perform before the television cameras?
Years ago, club rugby was the bedrock of SA rugby. Springboks hailed from the “platteland ” and many were the tales of sacrifice to reach the pinnacle represented by that green-and-gold jersey.
Piet Greyling and the recently-deceased Jan Ellis for instance. Rated by many as SA ’ s greatest flank pairing, Greyling hailed from Hartley in Rhodesia (now Chegutu in Zimbabwe) and won his cap out of the Collegians club in Bloemfontein, and Ellis from the United club in Windhoek.
In today’s intensified professional atmosphere, such journeys are unthinkable but who ’ s to say that somewhere in the backwaters there is not a magnificent player who missed out on being spotted at school, perhaps a late developer or someone who was injured at a critical time, just waiting to grab the chance represented by the Community Cup; just as the Varsity Cup has propelled a good few into a stratosphere they had not thought possible.
So here we go. Fifteen teams in Super Rugby, 20 teams in the Community Cup, all the students in the Varsity Cup, Varsity Shield and “Koshuis ” leagues lacing up their boots and having a go in the most primal of games where a bruise is a badge of honour and not the near-death experience it appears to be in soccer.
And everywhere you look there is a potential story.
As Sonny Bill Williams toys with the so-called sweet science, enter a new prodigy. Israel Folau is the latest in a long line of rugby league internationals seduced by the lure of performing on rugby union’s big stage.
Born in Australia of Tongan parents, Folau made his name in the 13-man code, took a disastrous detour into Aussie Rules and is now with the Waratahs, where his arrival is being treated with all the fanfare that accompanied the switch of Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor.
New coach Michael Cheika, the latest to try to deliver on unrequited Sydney ambitions, could probably do without so much attention on one player but at least is not in the firing line to the extent that another new coach is — John Kirwan at the Blues.
Following stints in Italy and Japan, the great All Black has taken on the job of getting the Aucklanders to not only flatter but succeed as they did at the outset of Super Rugby in the 1990s.
In SA, keen anticipation surrounds the entrance of Jan Serfontein and an exciting generation of exceptionally talented youngsters into senior rugby, while in Brisbane the flag-bearer of another era, Clyde Rathbone, will make an emotive return for the Brumbies.
New laws will play a role, the injury scourge will continue and it will not be all sweetness and light — but for now, there is just eager anticipation.