THE revival of club rugby in South Africa received a major boost yesterday with the announcement that a new televised national tournament for non-varsity clubs would kick off next year.
The inaugural Community Cup, which will replace the existing National Club Championships, will begin on February 16, with 20 of the country's top open clubs competing in a format identical to that of the Rugby World Cup.
The tournament will culminate in an annual grand final to determine the overall national club champion between the winners of the Community Cup and the winners of the FNB Varsity Cup.
"Club rugby is one of the most important items on our agenda and we believe that the Community Cup will breathe new life into club rugby," SA Rugby Union (Saru) chief executive Jurie Roux said.
"It will act as a catalyst for the revival of the club game at all levels across the country."
Roux said the tournament would start with 20 clubs, but plans were already in place to expand the competition over the succeeding two years by introducing a separate division for country district clubs and junior teams. The 20 clubs will be made up of the 14 champion clubs of the provincial unions, with a further six wildcard teams invited by Saru.
The clubs will be divided into four pools of five, with each club playing two home and two away matches over a period of five weeks.
The top two clubs from each pool will then advance to the knockout stages, with the eight teams playing quarterfinals, semifinals and finals each year at a central venue over the Easter long weekend.
The inaugural Community Cup final will be played on Easter Monday, April 1, with the remaining six teams competing for the plate, shield and bowl.