United Rugby Championship chief Martin Anayi claims there was no doubts the South African teams would add to the strength and prestige of the tournament.
Speaking to SARugbymag.co.za in an exclusive interview on the eve of the Grand Final between the Stormers and Bulls in Cape Town, Anayi broke down exactly how the South African teams add value to the URC and where the competition could go in the future.
Adding strong teams
Anayi revealed that the key to a successful expansion of the PRO14 was to add teams that could challenge the “middle to top of the table”.
“I don’t think we had any doubt,” Anayi told SARugbymag.co.za. “When we were doing the process of expansion and deciding which teams would be coming in. The most important thing was to make the competition stronger. You do that by bringing in teams which are better than the ones you already have in the majority.
“If I look at how the Bulls beat Leinster, that is what we wanted from the competition, 100%. Not necessarily that teams would beat Leinster, but we would get jeopardy in the fixtures where you couldn’t tell who was going to win from weekend to weekend. That’s the ‘Any Given Sunday’ mantra from the NFL that we tried to build over time.
“If you fast forward two or three years’ time and you’ve got a strong Edinburgh and Glasgow, Ospreys or Cardiff, you would have a real depth to the league which very few leagues in the world have. That’s what we are trying to achieve. The entry of the South African teams was always about challenging middle to top of the table.
“What I love about the South African teams is that if you look at the Bulls or Stormers squad, those players have become Springboks through playing in the URC. That’s the conveyor belt of talent that you’ve also got in New Zealand. It’s rare to have that, the next player coming into the team is going to be of the same or better quality than the person before them.”
Rugby fever has struck South African fans in a big way this season, so much so that local ticket provider, TicketPro, battled to deal with the high traffic and demand for tickets to the Grand Final, causing frustration amongst fans.
Cape Town Stadium has been sold out within the government-regulated capacity, and 31 000 fans will flood into the venue for the showpiece event.
“What we’ve seen is this absolute crescendo of interest,” said Anayi. “That’s in everything from social media to databases growing, our streaming service URC TV has had a massive bounce because of the South Africans living in the UK. It is just growing and growing. In the past few weeks, we’ve been able to get more fans into the stadiums in South Africa and that’s massively helped. This is almost a perfect crescendo to the interest that was already building.
“I think it’s also contextual. This isn’t the Currie Cup final. This is actually north vs south and the two best teams this year are from South Africa. They are in their rightful positions. It is really, really pleasing. It is unexpected. We were giving the South African teams a couple of years to bring home the players that they wanted to bring home, which is now happening.
“The next thing is about year two,” Anayi added. “What I love about that is South Africa has thrown down the gauntlet to the Celtic and Italian teams right now. South Africa has kind of said, ‘You wanted us to take part in your tournament, we are part of it and, by the way, we have won it’. That creates rivalries, it creates storylines and meaningful games – all the stuff we wanted from the URC.”
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The article United Rugby Championship: Chief Martin Anayi claims there was no doubts South African teams would improve the tournament appeared first on Planetrugby.com.