VILLAGER RFC have embarked on a mission to restore its reputation as one of the country’s best rugby clubs.
The Claremont club, South Africa’s second oldest after Hamiltons RFC, fell from grace last season when they were relegated from the top tier of Western Province club rugby.
Villager finished stone last in Super League A, after 16 losses, a draw and a solitary win, and the poor performance lead to some introspection from the club’s leadership.
Bruce Fraser, rugby chairperson at the club, says he identified several problems after taking up his position near the end of the season in August. The most glaring problem, he says, was the amount of money being spent on salaries of players and coaches.
“The current committee doesn’t want to fall into the same trap as everyone else and have to try and find R1.5m to pay players every year,” he says.
“It’s not sustainable because there is no money out there. Where do you find sponsors? No-one is investing, so we retracted the money and none of our players and coaches will be paid. There are no contracts, no retainers or match fees.”
Paying top players has become standard practice in club rugby and first team members at top clubs can earn as much as R14000 per month.
Fraser says players were previously attracted to the club solely for financial reasons, not a desire to play for Villager.
“From our first team set up last year, when were relegated to Super League B, we had a handful of players who remained for this season,” he says.
“The rest of them have all gone. Some of those players have played here for three to five seasons. That for me was the biggest eye-opener. We haven’t been building club members, we have been buying club members. It’s about playing for the badge and the guy standing next to you. It’s about putting the pride back into the club and the team and that can win you games and keep you competitive in the league.”
Since taking over, Fraser has made several other changes at the club. These include scrapping the first, second and third teams in order to form a senior squad from which the match day teams will be selected and focusing the club’s coaches on improving the skills of individual players.
“I think that has given many players, who have been here for the last two years, renewed energy to be involved because they now have an equal opportunity to play in the first team. It’s up to them; the way the club can help them is by improving their skills them,” he says.
The club has also showed faith in Rito Hlungwane and kept the former Western Province lock on as head coach. Fraser says Hlungwane might not have been allowed another term in past years.
Villager have set a top five finish and steady improvement as their only performance goals this season and aim to make it back to Super League A in five years time.
The “Dirty Whites” will have an opportunity to test the viability of their new systems when they face Hamiltons in the 137th instalment of South Africa’s oldest club rugby derby on Saturday 23 March.