When Villager RFC decided to buck the trend in Cape Town club rugby and stop paying players, few thought South Africa’s second oldest club would ever return to its former glory.
The “Dirty Whites” had been relegated from Super League A in 2012, after a disastrous season. And by refusing to offer any cash, the club would have even less hope of attracting or retaining the best players available.
The downturn in form that followed was inevitable. The Claremont club was out of its depth – even in Super League B – and all that saved Villager from another drop was the Western Province Rugby Union’s restructuring of it’s club competitions. Less than two years later, after appointing new coaching staff, Villager are on course to proving success is possible with an amateur team.
The club has succeeded in its goal of attracting players who play only for the love of the game, including Ashley Clarke, a former professional who says he grew up at Brookside. “Last year I decided to see if I couldn’t help out Villager and be part of getting the team back into Super League A,” he says. “I grew up kicking around a cold-drink can on the side of the field, while my dad played for the Old Crocs team.”
Clarke’s father, Bossie Clarke, is currently the club president, a former first team player and legend of WP rugby. While he has not achieved legendary status, the younger Clarke had his own glittering career in the sport. Clarke captained the Province under-19 side to victory in 2001, has represented WP, South Western Districts and the Leopards at Currie Cup level and spent four seasons at French Top 14 side Racing Metro.
But despite having reached the highest levels of professionalism, Clarke believes club rugby should remain amateur. “It’s a good thing because the guys that we have are all here for the right reasons,” he says. “When a player gets told that he isn’t in the starting line-up, it’s always for a valid reason. If there is someone younger and better – he will play. It’s an honest system. No one plays just because they are getting paid.” Clarke says the entire senior squad are happier and closer as a result, and this has resulted in a excellent start to the season. Villager currently top Super League B, with four victories from four.
Current head coach Gunner Hughes has lead the team to victories over Macassar, Scottsdene, Young Peoples and Collegians last Saturday. Hughes says Clarke, the team captain, has played an important role. “He brings massive physicality and lots of experience. Those are his key attributes,” he says. “He is quite an influential player. He leads from the front and the players feed off that. He has done very well and the guys have enjoyed having him as part of the team.”
Hughes says another important factor in the club’s resurgence is recruiting players who, like Clarke, play purely because of passion and desire to see the club succeed. He adds the club’s staff of coaches, biokeneticists, psychologists and doctors have all played an integral role. Hughes’ side will now hope to rack up victories in their 10 remaining games, starting with Surrey Estate Rangers on Saturday.
Villager aim to return to the top flight within two seasons, but are currently on track to achieving the goal a year early. Clarke is certain the goals are achievable and that amateurs can compete against Cape Town’s best. “We have nothing to lose; there is no money to lose. The guys just want to prove that they can play,” he says. “The whole club has bound together. Everyone is in it for the same reason: to bring Villager back to its former glory.”
Article courtesy of Peoples Post and was first published on 22.5.14 and be viewed online HERE
Photo Credit: Rashied Isaacs