Port Elizabeth – While disappointed at the possibility of being replaced as hosts of the South African leg of the IRB World Sevens Series, Eastern Province rugby authorities are excited about the future of big-time rugby in the region.
With the SA Rugby Union expected to announce on Friday a new venue for the SA leg of the Sevens Series, EP Rugby president Cheeky Watson said there was still plenty to look forward to for fans in the Eastern Cape.
“Naturally we had four wonderful years with the World Sevens Series, and we would have loved to continue to host the event, but now we are looking forward to a very exciting programme which lies ahead,” Watson said on Thursday.
“The EP Kings are part of the Currie Cup Premier Division which has brought the top-level of domestic rugby to Port Elizabeth and the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the first time in many years.
“Then we will have the Southern Kings entrenched in the Super Rugby competition for five seasons, plus we will be in a position to bid for a number of Springbok Tests to be held at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.”
The EP Rugby Union can also look back on a highly successful four-year period, in which the interest of sevens rugby reached an unprecedented high for the South African leg.
Attendances at what has been labelled as rugby’s biggest party rose from 77 500 in the first two years (2011 and 2012) to a total of 121 500 in the final two years (2013 and 2014).
The tournament in 2014 produced the biggest attendance of 63 041 over the two days, which EP Rugby CEO Charl Crous said illustrated how interest in the event had grown during the four-year hosting period.
“We definitely believe we elevated the interest in Sevens to a new level and that is seen in the applications from other centres to host the SA leg once our contract had been completed,” Crous said.
“The event gained a lot of traction due to a very successful partnership EP rugby formed with Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, through the MBDA, stadium operators Access Management and SA Rugby.
“From a players’ experience point of view, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was rated as the top venue on the Sevens circuit, and this is a tribute to the input from stadium operators Access Management, various role-players in Nelson Mandela Bay and EP Rugby in making the Sevens event a success.”
“We have noted that new venues for the Sevens Series have already been named in Vancouver and Sydney as World Rugby has re-examined the competition. That is their prerogative but we also know that we put Port Elizabeth on the global map with the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens and have richly benefited for that process.”
“We are now looking forward to what we are certain will be a boom period for rugby in the Eastern Cape, with the Currie Cup Premier Division at our stadium, plus Super Rugby in 2016, and the prospect of hosting the Springboks.
“If you consider that rugby achieved an input of something like R1 billion into the local economy in the last six years without the Currie Cup Premier Division and Super Rugby, except for 2013, we are positive about the future. With competitions like the Premier Division and Super Rugby entrenched in our upcoming programmes, plus the prospect of hosting Springbok tests, we believe rugby can continue to make a massive impact on the region.”