The Gold Cup, the national club rugby championship, may be somewhat of a mystery to those with a passing interest in the sport, but it is rapidly becoming the sought after golden chalice for clubs around the country.
Formerly played at the beginning of the season, its new format sees Southern Africa’s top 20 clubs competing in four pools over seven weeks at club venues with television exposure added in to boot. The result is a tournament producing high quality rugby with standards of the club game such as camaraderie and interaction with opposition a feature of the competition.
Spectators are lapping this up, thriving on the opportunity to watch quality rugby which delivers in terms of vibe, excitement and mingling with players afterwards.
Western Province was represented by two clubs last season, False Bay RFC and Durbell, who met in the one semi-final, ensuring at least one local team would face Rustenberg a week later. Wise money was on the defending champions Durbell but it was the former who travelled to the North West Province.
Their knockout schedule, determined by their pool stage finish, meant that they travelled for five of their seven matches and they returned runners up in the competition.
The interest and support generated at match venues, together with the exposure generated through television coverage, launched club rugby onto a new platform and exposed the viewer to an echelon of players who enthral club venue attendees every week.
The Gold Cup has an exchange programme in place, an initiative between Selkirk RFC and the British High Commission, where the forward and backline player of the tournament is each afforded a six month stint at a Scottish rugby club.
Hooker Ian Oosthuizen of Brakpan and wing Tythan Adams of College Rovers in Durban are now making an impact in the BT National 1 league in the United Kingdom since their arrival in November last year.
“The Gold Cup is all about providing club players with amazing opportunities and this exchange programme has shown once again that our best amateurs have a great contribution to make,” said SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux.
“Ian and Tythan are not only getting the chance to experience rugby life in Scotland – which included attending Saturday’s Six Nations victory at Murrayfield against Ireland – but they are also showing their class where it counts, on the field.
“These are the types of opportunities that the Gold Cup platform is creating for our ordinary club players, and long may it continue.”
Adams, who scored 10 tries in just five matches in the Gold Cup, has crossed the whitewash a further seven times in just six matches since making his Selkirk debut.
The versatile 23-year-old Oosthuizen, meanwhile, has been outstanding in the unfamiliar position of openside flanker.
As part of the exchange, both players are currently training twice a week with the Edinburgh Rugby professional franchise, until they return home in April.
Selkirk chairman and legendary Scotland flyhalf John Rutherford said his club were honoured to be involved with the exchange programme.
“We take our role as hosts very seriously and our aim is to ensure that our guests from South Africa have a great experience both on and off the pitch,” said Rutherford, capped 42 times by Scotland between 1979 and 1987 and part of the 1983 Lions Test side that toured New Zealand.
“On the pitch Ian and Tythan have played well and bonded with the local lads, while they are also very popular with all our supporters.
“Between now and the end of the season they have been invited to train with Edinburgh and I’m sure this will add to their experience of rugby and life in Scotland.”
Here in the Western Cape the race for Super League A honours is going to be a closely contested one.
Defending champions False Bay are fully aware of what is ahead for them this season, while Stellenbosch University will not take lightly to being runners up again.
Most interestingly is the determination of the other teams in the competition to stand triumphant come September, making this the most competitive SLA in a number of years and rugby enthusiasts are encouraged to get down to their local clubs for a taste of high quality club rugby.
With initiatives such as this exchange programme in place, there is much to play for, although the journey is long and arduous.