ZIMBABWEAN club rugby received a major boost yesterday, following the South African Rugby Union (SARU)’s announcement that the country’s club rugby champions would, from next year, compete in South Africa’s Community Cup national championship.BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The Community Cup national championships is the top competition for non-university rugby clubs in South Africa and will, from next year, be known as the Gold Cup after the tournament’s iconic winner’s trophy.
SARU chief executive officer Jurie Roux announced yesterday that Zimbabwe and Namibia would add international flavour to the tournament, as they were set to join 18 of South Africa’s best open clubs in the 20-team tournament from next year.
“Strategically, this decision is in line with our commitment to assist our neighbours, so that they have the best possible chance of qualifying alongside South Africa for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan,” Roux said in a statement released by SARU.
“Namibia’s best players will benefit from playing in the expanded Currie Cup in 2016 and the incorporation of their champion club into our tournament structures will help strengthen their next tier of players.
“Zimbabwe came within a whisker of qualifying for the World Cup and participation in the Gold Cup will likewise revive their top domestic league and expose their players to a higher level of competition.”
Zimbabwe’s invitation comes after SARU’s club rugby manager Duane Heath visited the country two months ago to watch the Northern Rugby League final between Old Georgians and eventual champions Harare Sports Club.
The Gold Cup will kick off on September 10 2016, with 20 clubs once again competing in a Rugby World Cup-style format, with five weeks of pool stages and the top two from each group progressing to the knockout stages.
The tournament will feature 47 matches in all.
Durbanville-Bellville, who capped a fairy tale 2015 season by winning the Community Cup, having qualified through the back door of the repechage rounds, will return in 2016 to defend the Gold Cup trophy they lifted in Rustenburg earlier this year.
They, together with the Namibian and Zimbabwean teams, will be joined by the best non-university clubs of the 14 provincial unions plus Limpopo from the 2015 season.
SARU said a full list of the participating teams would be confirmed early in the new year.