The Bulls’ decision to strengthen ties with rugby clubs in Pretoria is a shrewd move, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA.
There are a number of ways to interpret the Bulls’ ‘back to the future’ innovation of having its players have an active affiliation with their clubs.
For years the understanding has been that for a player to sign with a provincial union he had to represent a club in the same region, but as relationships go it was a pretty long distance one as there was almost no contact between the player and ‘his club’.
The Bulls – who along with the Sharks have upped the local franchises’ content game via their social media presence – have decided to make that association meaningful again, recently seconding some of their peripheral squad members (for want of a better word) to represent their clubs.
Big on the bells and whistles these days, the Bulls did the player allocation to the clubs by way of a mock NFL draft, naming of the Rainbow Cup match-day 23 squads along with their clubs.
The press release also intimated that Springboks Duane Vermeulen, Trevor Nyakane and Morne Steyn – in what sounded suspiciously like a public appearance clause – would attend ‘at least two social events’ at their clubs, which should make for serious clubhouse entertainment when you think of the war stories of Vermeulen and Steyn, and the dance moves and chirps of Nyakane.
Bulls president Willem Strauss was quoted as saying the move was aimed at making rugby at that level relevant again which, after years of the game cutting out the middleman (club rugby) by breeding its players straight from school or academies, sounds like a good idea.
Forget the ginger stepchild, club rugby is now positively adopted in terms of its relation to professional rugby. For a sport which has always preached community above all else, the treatment of club rugby has been nothing short of hanging it out to dry.
There are a few ways to read this development. The most obvious is that it’s a good thing the Bulls are making an effort to address the disconnect that has steadily grown between the two levels of the game, and one can only hope it’s an example the rest of the provinces, particularly the franchises, will follow.
Another way to look at it is that the Bulls are being shrewd in dealing with the discontinuation of the interprovincial U19 tournament. With the U19 Currie Cup no longer there, the kids who get contracted from school are those with obvious talent to go all the way.
Club rugby is, for want of a better phrase, a good place to park the less-obvious lights while they develop, or in the Bulls’ case, a competitive place – and there’s nothing more competitive than a 35-year-old club rugby tighthead with five kids at home – for their bright-eyed starlets not ready to play U21 rugby.
Also, it won’t be lost on the cynical among us that given the goodwill likely to emanate from the club as a result of this sudden attention from the Bulls, Strauss is on course to being president for life when you think about future voting …
Of course, there will be questions about what happens if the contracted players get injured while on club duty due to some overzealous ‘competitiveness’ by club players keen to bring their more illustrious opponents down a peg or two, or if they catch Covid in an amateur environment coming to grips with the weekly testing protocols.
But for now, rugby needs all its people pulling together during a strange old time for all of us.