THE rebranded Zimbabwe Rugby Union Intercity Rugby League kicks off this weekend with double headers in Harare and Bulawayo headlining the return of the game after a three-year hiatus.
The league returns after a three-year absence with Old Hararians and Old Johanians starting the ball rolling at Harare Sports Club with old rivals Harare Sports Club and Old Georgians later taking the stage on Saturday afternoon.
The clash between Old Miltonians and Western Panthers is expected to be the pick of the game in Bulawayo after the Mat Warriors and Police Bulldogs have clashed in the opening match at Hartsfield.
There will also be rugby in Mutare where Mutare Sports Club will host Gweru Sports Club. Zimbabwe Rugby Union general manager Sifiso Made said they are excited to have the games back despite the lack of sponsorship, which had led to the shelving of the league in 2014.
“Our domestic league is the only platform that determines how we perform on the international stage. The more rugby we play the more competitive we become.
“The national team coaches can only be guided by a league structure when they do their selection of national teams. That’s when they see the best performers who have been consistent through watching them play week in week out.
“So for us, whether we have the sponsorship or not we have to get the league programme going. We would have loved to have a big sponsorship for this game but it’s unfortunate we are operating under a harsh economic environment,” said Made.
The teams will play each other twice with the top four teams making it through to the semi-finals and the winners to the finals.
At the end of the season, there is going to be relegation of the bottom three teams but we are not going to be promoting any team for the 2018 season.
The 2018 season will have eight teams as they aim at improving the competitiveness of the league going forward. The relegated teams will take part in the proposed Intercity Division two league. All teams that have second teams will take part in their provincial development leagues.
The team that will be top at the half way stage (week 11) of the league will automatically qualify for the 2017 Club Gold Cup competition in South Africa.
“The team that will take part should have been confirmed by July 31, we believe this will give the team enough time to prepare for the competition that kicks off in September.
“Gold Cup is very important for Zimbabwe Rugby as it affords us an opportunity to expose more players on the international stage.
“We believe that the revival of Intercity League competition will go a long way in reviving the fortunes of and rebranding the Zimbabwe Rugby Union and rugby as a whole. We look forward to a successful 2017 season not only on the local front but also on the international stage where our various teams will be taking part.”