Sibongile Mafu

Eastern Cape, stand up

2013-02-27 10:24

Sibongile Mafu

I am a very happy Eastern Cape girl at the moment. The Southern Kings put in a sterling performance this past weekend to beat the Western Force 22-10 and claim their first victory in their Super rugby debut, and a moral victory against the cynics who said they didn't stand a chance.

It was against the odds that the Kings, a team many didn't want featured in the tournament to begin with, claimed a win that was supposedly never meant to be for them.

Port Elizabeth, but more importantly Eastern Cape rugby took a small, but significant step in gaining some respect from those who didn't give it a chance. Headlines from South Africa to Australia screamed words like "shocking victory" that many agreed with, even those who had been backing the Kings. It really was sensational.

The Eastern Cape has always been hailed as the home of rugby in this country, but for the most part, that home has been as empty as Old Mother Hubbard's sparse and sad-looking cupboard. It has been a place that has often been lauded for its rich rugby history, something its residents are incredibly proud of.

In search of success

Great players from the Eastern Cape leave in search of rugby success at bigger franchises and promising players, many reluctant to go, feel as though they have no other choice but to venture out and pursue careers in your so-called bigger provinces. The Kings has become a chance for many of them to do what they were unable to do several years ago - stay at home and play top-flight rugby.

Endless discussions around the brain drain of Eastern Cape rugby players (as well as other professions, of course) continue, but over the past few years nothing has really changed. We have consistently been starved of any decent rugby, having to settle for a somewhat competitive school boy rugby culture, that just never quite seems enough. People support schoolboy rugby in big numbers, coming out to have a look at talent that will eventually be scooped up by other teams. It’s almost like being given a glimpse of the talent, before the world whisks it away.

When Port Elizabeth was awarded the Seven's World Rugby tender two years ago, there was a collective sigh of relief from many back home. Finally, the city that had produced some quality players would be given the chance to watch that talent. The crowd at the Kings and Western Force game was also testament to the hunger the province has for rugby. There wasn't a silent fan in the stadium, and rightly so. The team put in a performance that brought up a lot of emotion from Eastern Cape folk.

Something greater

Rugby has always been an incredibly sentimental topic for me personally, having grown up in a family that loves the game. For years, we observed other provinces thriving, others struggling, through Super Rugby tournaments and a feeling that we could compete with the best if given a chance.

This past weekend opened some eyes. Yes, the Kings haven’t won the tournament but they've certainly jolted some teams from their slumber. And more importantly there'll be consistent rugby being played at in the city.

It may have only been one game, in the first week of the tournament but it symbolised something greater. That performance has guaranteed that no team will view them as pushovers, and for a province like the Eastern Cape which has been overlooked for so long, we couldn't ask for more.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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