Koos Kruger, Roelf Kotze, Cncl Mohammed Boroko and George Stainton

There were negotiations, planning sessions and more decision making, but now it's final. The Ford Pumas rugby team officially moved to Nelspruit as from October 1. All the contracted players signed their new two-year contracts with the union before the Currie Cup final.

On Tuesday afternoon a five-year agreement between Mr Koos Kruger, CEO of the Mpumalanga Rugby Union, acting mayor of Mbombela municipality,Cllr Mohammed Boroka and Mr Roelf Kotzé (Mbombela Stadium manager) was signed.

This agreement gives the team the right to use the stadium as their base station and they can play all their home friendly games as well as Vodacom and Currie Cup matches in the capital.

After being based in Witbank for all these years, the Puma team members can now look forward to staying and practising almost under one roof. This means that the brand building and marketing opportunities, match preparations and other Pumas rugby obligations can be realised, to build a stronger brand name and team.

Mr George Stainton, rights and sponsorship consultant of the Mpumalanga Rugby Union, mentioned that the Pumas would love to have a open-door approach by means of anyone could come and attendtraining sessions of the team.

"With this, we get more kids involved with the players, which automatically helps bring the crowds in to match days, Stainton explained. He also explained that the Pumas would embrace the Nelspruit lifestyle during the week and play attractive, winning rugby over the weekends.

"The agreement also gives us the ability to commit ourselves as a rugby union to title sponsors, and vice versa, upon which we are totally dependent. Since we started talking about the move to Nelspruit, and even very recently, we still couldn't finalise negotiations with possible sponsors, as we had nothing concrete to offer," Grobler said.

According to Kotzé the agreement's financial conditions allow for a cost-sharing module, from which both the stadium and union would benefit. "We know that we won't make money from the word go, but the investment of a professional sports team means a lot to the city and of course the whole province," Kotzé commented.

The stadium would offer the teams not only match-playing opportunities, but the facilities would be upgraded to exercise on the current B and C fields as well as making use of the gymnasium.

Due to the fact that some of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) soccer matches will be hosted at the stadium in 2013, facilities will be upgraded to accommodate both rugby and soccer teams. Some of these upgrades will be an artificial grass soccer pitch and irrigation on the practice pitches.

Kruger further commented that only part of the commercial management team would relocate to Nelspruit while the amateur management team would remain in eMalahleni for the present, and also the u/19 and u/21 teams. But, it would be ideal to have them eventually relocate to the Lowveld.

After losing six of their top players after the 2012 season to other unions, super rugby or overseas opportunities – Torsten van Jaarsveld, Shaun Terblanché, Naas Olivier, Nicol Mostert, Ashely Buys as well as Pellow van der Westhuizen - the union invested in a couple of young guys who have the ability to grow with the current team structure and game plan.

Mr Marius van Rensburg told Lowvelder that contracts had already been signed with Blue Bulls u/21 hooker Jacques Momberg, Franky Hern (EP Kings hooker), Renier van Rooyen (EP Kings scrum half), Stefan "Vlooi" Kotze (u/21 Cheetah tight-head prop), Ivan Espach (GWK Griekwas tight-head prop and son of former Puma, Jaco Espach), Stefan Watermeyer (GWK Griekwas centre) as well as JW Bell (Valke fullback). "We are still looking at one or two
other players to fit into our group, but we are waiting for their unions," Van Rensburg concluded.

Not only will the stadium be the new home for the Ford Pumas, but Kotzé mentioned that there were bigger plans afoot in the sense that the local Sivutsa Stars soccer team had also been allocated as the Mbombela Stadium's home soccer side and would be treated on an equal basis and a similar contract would be on the table for management to consider.

"Why Sivutsa Stars? Like the Ford Pumas, they are now playing in the first division of their soccer league, but are fighting hard to be admitted to the
Premier Division of the PSL. Should they succeed, more of the bigger teams would visit the stadium and soccer fans would be able to utilise the facilities better," Kotzé concluded.

Hennie Homann