The Lions Test at Cape Town Stadium ushers in new era for rugby in the Mother City, while Durban pays the price for poor attendance, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
We’re going to bid farewell to Newlands next year when the grand old lady of South African rugby enjoys her last hoorah in the shadow of Table Mountain before Western Province packs its bags for Cape Town Stadium in 2021.
Newlands has been the scene of many great wins for Western Province, the Stormers and indeed the Springboks. It’s where rookies have made their mark and where legends have left a legacy. But it’s reached its sell-by date – actually a long time ago already.
Western Province’s move to the former Fifa World Cup Cup venue has actually nothing to do with keeping up with the times in terms of playing their rugby at a modern stadium, which offers a great viewing experience and world-class facilities. It’s been necessitated by their dire financial situation. If they were flush with cash, I suggest that they would probably have stayed put.
But it’s a move that can invigorate rugby in the Mother City, moving to a grand arena which offers so much more. Yes, Newlands will be missed, but like iconic venues such as Cardiff Arms Park and the old Lansdowne Road, it was time for an upgrade.
Cape Town Stadium is a fantastic venue and a top choice to host one of the 2021 British & Irish Lions’ Tests against the Boks. The venue next door to the Atlantic Ocean, not to mention the iconic FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, will just add more sparkle to what is going to be a great occasion in just over 18 months’ time.
It would have been great if the organisers had given us the trifecta of former World Cup venues, by allocating the beautiful Moses Mabhida Stadium a Test match. It would have been the perfect spread to play a Test in Durban.
However, attendance figures for Springbok Test matches in Durban have been terrible over the past few years, with many empty seats in last year’s Rugby Championship Test between the Boks and Argentina, as well as the year before when France visited these shores.
Durban, though, does get a tour game, but it’s certainly a big blow after hosting the Lions at Kings Park in 2009, when Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira folded Phil Vickery like a pretzel at scrum time.
But it also makes sense to play two matches on the Highveld to give the Boks the best chance of winning the series. Ellis Park also deserves the Test, because it’s arguably the venue that gives the South Africans that extra bit of motivation and grunt.
But the second Test at Cape Town Stadium is what I’m looking forward to. Unless there is a Test match at the venue next year, it’s going to the first time that a rugby Test will be contested at the venue. It’s long overdue, but something that should be a great spectacle.
Thank you, Newlands, but it’s time to embrace a shiny new venue.