Evan Roos. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
- South Africa’s participation in the United Rugby Championship has elevated the former Celtic League’s competitive value, according to URC CEO Martin Anayi.
- Dissenting voices from Stuart Barnes to Clive Woodward have pushed back at SA’s European migration.
- Rumblings are that the Six Nations will welcome the Springboks next, which some have opposed.
Despite vehement initial opposition from some sections in Europe, South Africa’s participation in the United Rugby Championship (URC) has elevated the former Celtic League’s competitive value, according to URC CEO Martin Anayi.
Dissenting voices from Stuart Barnes to Clive Woodward have pushed back at SA’s European migration, which started with the former PRO 14 and has extended into the URC and European Champions and Challenge Cup.
Rumblings are that the Six Nations will welcome the Springboks next.
“Our teams had played against the Cheetahs and Southern Kings already in the PRO14 as it was, so a lot of them were very positive,” Anayi told media at the URC season two launch this week.
“It’s probably split into two groups. The top of the table clubs, the likes of Leinster and Munster, were most supportive of South African teams coming in.
“The reason for that was they wanted to keep pushing themselves forward in the league. They wanted the league to get better and the URC to be of a higher competition standard than it has ever been before.
“And South African teams have done that.”
Not only did South Africa’s “Big Four” franchises participate in the URC, they won the whole thing and hosted the first all-SA final in Cape Town, which the Stormers won by beating the Bulls in the inaugural edition.
It took South Africa 11 years to achieve the same feat in Super Rugby, when the Bulls did a number on the Sharks at Kings Park in 2007.
URC season one’s viewership number grew exponentially because of the South African teams doing well and three of them, including the Sharks, making the playoffs and qualifying for Europe.
The invitation to continental competitions was extended to the out-of-sorts Cheetahs, who will feature in the Challenge Cup with the Lions.
“It’s been a fantastic URC season one,” Anayi beamed.
“From an audience point of view, it’s broken the records and targets we’d set. We’ve grown our social media and digital footprint.
“Some of the results of South African teams being so competitive and winning season one, the Stormers in Cape Town against a good, strong Bulls side, I don’t think we could have scripted that any better had we tried.
“Where can it go from here? How do you go on from winning the URC … win it again maybe? The big step up is that SA teams will be playing on more fronts in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup as well.
“To be able to engage with that competition in a meaningful way, you’ve got to be able to use your squad well, coming up against French and English side, which you’ve never done before.
“It’s a new challenge but it makes the URC even better.”
The sight of Bulls teenage wing Canan Moodie scoring his first Springbok try on debut against Australia last weekend also topped the cherry on the cake for the URC.
Moodie, alongside players such as Evan Roos, Elrigh Louw, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Ruan Nortje can directly attribute their Springbok call-ups to their stellar URC displays … a win for everyone.
“You saw Canan Moodie go up for that high ball and speed away for the try – brilliant and perfect,” added Anayi.
“I’m not South African but I was thinking of how players from our competition can go through our competition and become Springboks in one year.
“And compete at the very highest level and win matches. We love that story. That’s the story we hear in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
“To have that same narrative in South Africa is really important.”