‘Rugby clubs with 100 years of history to raise white flag? It’s not on’

2009-09-23 00:00

CLUB rugby in the midlands, primarily in Pietermaritzburg, is facing its biggest crisis in the 100-plus years the game has been played here.

After a season of very poor, at best disappointing, results and final placings in KZN competitions, the Midlands Rugby Sub Union (MRSU) and two of its three senior clubs are at loggerheads as to the way forward.

MRSU president Piet Herbst told The Witness yesterday that of the 16 clubs under its banner, all except KZN Premier Division PMB Varsity and First Division PMB Collegians are prepared to support the governing body’s concept of a composite Midlands senior team.

MRSU believes this is a possible solution to consistently negative outcomes and a chance to seriously compete with the fast-evolving Durban clubs who are leaving PMB behind.

Varsity in particular have been languishing at the bottom of the log for two seasons and on the face of it appear to be desperately treading water before PMB’s last remaining top-level club is relegated.

For the MRSU proposal to work, one of Varsity, Collegians or First Division PMB Waratahs have to hand over their league status to the new, combined Midlands team. Waratahs, unlike Varsity and Collegians, support the Midlands team concept, but, like Varsity and Collegians, are not prepared to hand over their status, leaving the MRSU proposal dead in the water.

Furthermore, the competitive Midlands U20A team, who were handed Varsity’s U20A Division status in 2008, might have no U20A league to play in next year, as the campus-based club have requested that the KZN Rugby Union give it back.

Herbst said the provincial fixtures committee will make a recommendation to the KZNRU Council next Tuesday for a final decision to be made. MRSU wants the status quo to remain.

“We still want the clubs to exist, but [Collegians chairman] Tony Day said at their meeting he would walk away and Collegians would close if their players supported the Midlands concept,” said a disheartened Herbst. “It was the most diabolical club meeting that I have ever attended. The vote was 12-6 against the concept; that’s 18 Collegians players deciding the future.”

Herbst said the concept is not being driven by the Midlands Rugby Academy, “but that institution is a ‘happy’ environment and they do not want to be divided up between Varsity, Collegians and Waratahs”.

Varsity sports officer for rugby Reggie Smith said the club is reasonably confident they will have sufficient quality players by next season.

“We have influential people involved who, among other things, are recruiting players, while local company Foton Tractors has partnered with us in our bid to be more competitive next year.

“The Midlands team concept is driven by personal agendas — people looking after their livelihoods and not necessarily with the interests of club rugby in mind,” said Smith.

“It is shortsighted to take the best players from different clubs, put them in one team, condemning clubs to a mediocre existence.”

Smith said the MRSU’s role is to foster the game here, club workshops on coaching and administration, for example.

“They are not playing that kind of role. I don’t know how the MRSU expects clubs with 100 years’ history just to give up, raise the white flag and not go down fighting at least.

“Kill clubs off? That’s not on,” said Smith.

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