Vodacom Cup set to make an ‘impact’ again

The Vodacom Cup, a secondary domestic competition in South Africa while the Super 14 is in progress, has been instrumental in creating career opportunities in rugby over the past decade, a fact that cannot, according to SA Rugby.

Jonathan Stones, the Managing Director of SA Rugby (Pty) Ltd (the commercial arm of the South African Rugby Union – SARU), said that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the Vodacom Cup had “cleared the way” for many young players to forge successful, long-term careers in the game.

“Over 50 percent of the players who are currently contenders for the 2007 Springbok World Cup squad all had their first taste of senior provincial rugby in the Vodacom Cup. This is significant indeed,” Stones said, referring to new statistics that have been compiled on the impact of the tournament on the South African game.

“Since 1998, 81 players who made their provincial debuts in the Vodacom Cup have gone on to wear the Green and Gold, either for the Springboks or the SA Sevens team. Of further significance is that one-third of these players are black, which highlights the impact of the competition on transformation in general,” said Stones.

The group of 81 Springboks includes current Bok captain John Smit, who made his debut for the Wildebeest in 1998, as well as current Bok frontline stars Victor Matfield (Griquas 1998), Bakkies Botha (Falcons 1999), CJ van der Linde (Vodacom Cheetahs 2002), Schalk Burger (Vodacom Western Province 2003), Pierre Spies (Vodacom Blue Bulls 2005), Fourie du Preez (Vodacom Blue Bulls 2002), Jean de Villiers (Vodacom Western Province 2001), Jaque Fourie (Lions 2002), Bryan Habana ( Lions 2003) and Akona Ndungane (Eastern Province 2003).

“Hopefully these new statistics will portray the Vodacom Cup in a new light, and remove the stigma that the tournament has had limited impact or is of little importance,” said Stones.

“The statistics reinforce our view that the Vodacom Cup is not a development tournament. It is a fully-recognised senior provincial rugby competition that promotes the development and transformation of not only the game and the players, but also the community, the media, sponsors and other stakeholders,” Stones said.

The new statistics credit the Vodacom Cup for giving Wallaby Test players Clyde Rathbone and Daniel Vickerman their first taste of provincial rugby. Stuart Abbott, who played centre for England in 2003, was also a Vodacom Cup graduate.

“The statistics identify 127 players who have featured prominently in the South African game at various levels in recent seasons,” said Stones.

“Aside from the Springboks on the list there are many players who are household names and others who have shown that they have the potential to make a bigger impact within the next few seasons”.

The statistics show that 2002 was the most successful in delivering players to the national team with a total of 15 players later becoming Springboks. The Lions, four times winners of the Vodacom Cup, have produced 12 Boks out of their Vodacom Cup teams since 1998, whilst the Blue Bulls, WP and Cheetahs have each produced 11 Boks.

“These stats reinforce the important role that the Vodacom Cup has to play in the creation of opportunities that teach players how to handle pressure, assist in honing their skills, build confidence and discipline and prepare them to make the step up to the next level,” Jones said.

“Vodacom is honoured to once again partner with the South African Rugby Union (SARU) in taking the Vodacom Cup to rugby supporters. We are humbled that our sponsorship has enabled a healthy flow of talent into the sport to position our country, as one of the premier rugby nations,” said Dot Field, Vodacom’s Chief Communications Officer.

The 2007 Vodacom Cup starts on Friday 23 February and culminates with the final in May.

* Statistics compiled by sports media co

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