SuperRugby has made a much-awaited return to our TV screens and consciousness with no-hopers the Melbourne Rebels sensationally beating the Crusaders in Christchurch, while the Varsity Cup has also enjoyed a thrilling opening round of action.
But the last week also saw the launch of an equally-important competition for those outside that pair of high-profile tournaments – the Cell C Community Cup. Those who denigrate this competition as being merely amateur club rugby should perhaps watch some of the high-quality fare on offer while also remembering the wise words of rugby doyen Hugh Bladen, who pointed out that the very roots of the game are in tournaments such as the Community Cup.
In his excellent address at the launch at Wanderers Club, Bladen reminded the audience that clubs are the backbone of world rugby, it was through them that the game spread, while the sport began as mass inter-town events that would see a pig-bladder wrestled from one side of a village to another.
How much focus is put on schoolboy rugby (and the awful use of steroids that leads to) and whether the Vodacom Cup should actually exist are two bones of contention of mine and I wish there was more attention paid to club rugby instead. Unfortunately, the vested interests of 14 provincial unions, all with bloated payrolls to look after, means this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Bladen told some wonderful stories about the spirit or gees that is typical of club rugby and this is what even those players who have reached the greatest heights of the game miss most once they have retired.
The Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race also had their launch this week and a number of former rugby stars have registered for this gruelling event that comprises eight stages from Table Mountain through the unique landscapes of the Western Cape, over mountains and through valleys to the finish in the Winelands. They are all taking part because the event provides them with the team spirit they miss from their rugby days.
“This is the closest sport to what I was able to get out of my rugby career – the adrenaline and the camaraderie are addictive and it feeds the competitive monster in me,” World Cup-winning Springbok captain John Smit said.
“Every person tells you you’re crazy to do it, you expect to die, but the race has got the spirit and camaraderie to get you through. That’s what you look forward to and a week after the race you miss everything about it,” fellow 2007 World Cup-winner Butch James said.
“Mountain biking has become my passion, I absolutely love what I do now. It’s about courage and commitment, and rugby players have that,” 1995 World Cup hero Joel Stransky said.
Apart from the wonderful scenery they get to enjoy when they’re not head-down staring at their front wheels, the rugby legends also make significant contributions to charity.
“I get so many requests from charities, that I formed my own – Barney’s Army. So I’m riding for them and there are three beneficiaries, the Chris Burger/Petro Jackson Fund for rugby players who suffer spinal injuries, the LIV Village for orphaned and vulnerable children and Operation Bobbi Bear which provides a safehouse for abused children between the abuse and the courthouse,” Smit explained.
Several of the rugby legends are riding for Barney’s Army, while Marius Hurter and Colin Charvis are riding for Sparks for Children’s Health, which raises funds for medical research, and Stransky is competing for the LumoHawk Foundation he started four years ago to raise funds for the education and sporting needs of underprivileged children.
The rugby legends will all probably feel as battered and bruised on March 22 as they did after taking on the All Blacks, but their competitive spirit will be quenched, they would have contributed greatly to charity and the further exposure of our beautiful country, and they will all have a tremendous jol as they once again #ConquerAsOne.