New Boks could sur­face from the back­wa­ters

Sunday Times - - SPORT -

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.

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