The Cell C Community Cup was borne out of a need to revive and modernise club rugby in South Africa, says SARU CEO, Jurie Roux.
“We followed a very extensive research and consultation process over a period of three years before arriving at the tournament format,” said Roux. “We visited every province and listened to what ordinary club people had to say. This is therefore as much their tournament as it is ours.”
The old SARU National Club Championships had a proud history, with Maties winning the first of 12 titles by beating Durban Collegians 28-20 in inaugural final played at Kings Park in Durban in 1975. But the advent of the professional era and the FNB Varsity Cup meant that the week-long event had become outdated and in urgent need of a revamp, Roux added.
The final Club Champs, held in Rustenburg last September, symbolised the transition from old to new as it was also the first time in the tournament's 38-year history that Varsity teams were not involved.
Jonsson College Rovers of KZN, whose home ground is situated just a stone's throw away from Mr Price Kings Park, were the 38th and final winners to have their names engraved on the trophy after beating Pretoria Police 23-10 in the final.
College Rovers' victory earned the Durban-based club the right to host the opening match of the inaugural Cell C Community Cup.
“One of the primary roles of clubs in the amateur era was to supply players to provincial teams,” said Roux. “Professionalism changed the landscape dramatically, both for so-called open and university clubs. The Varsity Cup has successfully revived student club rugby by providing those clubs and players with a high-level exposure platform.
“In our trips across the country, the open-club community told us unequivocally that things couldn't go on as before. After listening to what they had to say, we held workshops with all provinces so that we could get as clear a picture as possible of what was needed. After so many years in the making, it's very exciting to be just a week away from kick-off.”
Community Cup – Facts & figures
•More than 130 clubs across the country competed in provincial premier leagues last year, with the top-placed open club in each province plus Limpopo qualifying automatically for the Community Cup;
•The 20 teams will cover a combined distance of 62,300km during the pool stages – an average return journey of 1 550km for each of the 40 matches to be played;
•White River face the longest journey during the pool stages – a return trip of 3 436km from the Lowveld to the Boland and back again for their Round 1 match against Roses United in Wellington.