The 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar said he didn’t understand why the Eastern Cape’s rugby talent hasn’t taken South African rugby by storm in the manner it should.
Pienaar‚ who is the chief executive officer of Advent Sports and Media Entertainment (ASEM)‚ was speaking at the Varsity Cup launch in Johannesburg on Wednesday afternoon.
The Eastern Cape rugby regions‚ Border and Eastern Province‚ aren’t represented in the main Varsity Cup but will be taking part in the Varsity Shield.
The University of Fort Hare (UFH) and Walter Sisulu University (WSU) are from the Border region while Rhodes University and the Nelson Mandela University play under the Eastern Province rugby banner.
“I’m perplexed that the talent in the Eastern Cape hasn’t come through in the way that I thought it would. They are fast‚ strong and incredibly skilled rugby players and there’s a much bigger platform for them‚” Pienaar said.
“If you look at the other platforms‚ there’s club rugby but club rugby in South Africa is OK‚ but not at the level of Varsity Cup rugby. The youngsters who are doing well at school level will get seen and get the opportunities to further their careers and play at a much higher level.”
UFH and WSU could be the toast of Border rugby in the absence of professional rugby in the region this season.
The Border Rugby Union was liquidated last year and one of the unfortunate spinoffs is the lack of a professional side that will represent the region in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup First Division.
Two major reasons that led to Border’s liquidation are a sizeable tax bill and a loan to SA Rugby they need to service.
The UFH “Blues” and the WSU “All Blacks” will open their Varsity Shield accounts on February 18 when they meet at the Davidson Stadium in Alice.
Pienaar said the Border would have benefited greatly because the region has a stable Schools Rugby conveyor that regularly produces high calibre players.
“This question should have been asked to Border Rugby because they’re the ones who should be answering this question. This is a platform that should be embraced because there’s some great schools there and then you have the universities‚” Pienaar said.
“You build from schools rugby into the next phase of the game and they’ve never quite had that level.
“It was the missing trampoline for talent where people stop playing rugby after school because what’s the next thing? You stop playing when you don’t have a professional contract.”