Currie Cup

Big demand for Lions’ semi-pro club league

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Ten days ago Lions coach Eugene Eloff highlighted the importance of club rugby generally and attributed much of the Lions success over the past two seasons to the healthy state of their club rugby when he was guest speaker at a Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) function.

Now the union has taken club rugby a step further with the expansion of their semi-professional league.

“We’ve had enquiries from all over about our semi-pro league, and SA Rugby are looking into expanding the concept. We’ve especially had a number of enquiries from clubs in our neighbouring unions who want to become part of the series,” said Marnie Reynecke, Chief Executive Officer of the Lions.

“Of course we’ll assist South African Rugby where needed with implementation of the concept elsewhere, but we simply cannot delay the expansion in our own union while this is in process at committee level elsewhere.”

Reynecke, who first proposed the concept 15 years ago, says that businesses are showing great interest in the new semi-professional structure.

“We last year divided the union’s clubs into five franchises which are each run as a separate entity. Private parties as well as businesses are now looking at acquiring these franchises,” said Reynecke.

“The semi-professional league has proved so popular over the past two years during its pilot phase that it will be run in conjunction with the Pirates Grand Challenge and Senior Grand Challenge club leagues from April to October in 2008, with the clubs in a particular region providing playing personnel to its franchise.

“This is just as it was when provincial unions still selected their players from their club competitions,” explained Reynecke.

The rationale behind the concept is that the best players from a particular franchise’s club will be selected into one team, ensuring a higher level of rugby. The feeder clubs in the leagues will also be of more even strength, with the strongest clubs providing players to their franchise, thereby ensuring a strength versus strength concept.

With top clubs from the Blue Bulls and the Falcons also interested, the semi-professional league could, in 2008, include franchises from the Lions, Blue Bulls, Falcons and Leopards – whose Pukke Rugby Institute has in any event been part of the Lions’ leagues for some years.

“However, franchises from other unions must be prepared to adhere to the competition structure as determined by the Lions,” Reynecke pointed out.

Franchises will contract 25 players to a team, and will also compete at Under-21 and Under-19 level. A Sevens competition will also be played at regional level to increase exposure and experience to this form of the game.

Reynecke says, as is the case with the provincial unions, the individual franchises will assume responsibility for schools and rugby development in its region.

The franchises will also have autonomy as regards administration and the appointment of selectors and coaches, although the Lions will ensure the appointed personnel have the necessary qualifications for their particular portfolios.

Although he wouldn’t divulge the amount involved, Reynecke gave the assurance that there were vastly bigger sums of money available for payment of players in 2008 than there were this year.

Sapa

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