'Improvements' that worsen the Currie Cup

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 15:51

OPINION: rugby365 digs a bit deeper than just the sanitised and flaky media releases, to find out what has become of South Africa's premier domestic competition.

The self-inflicted destruction of the Currie Cup by the South African Rugby Union - which refers to itself as SA Rugby - seems to continue unabated.

If the current trend continues it will end up in the graveyard.

In the last four years every year there has been a different format and every year people vote with their feet.

From the understandable strength versus strength double round of a few years ago, with even a few Springboks playing towards the end, there have been numerous, what SA Rugby calls, 'improvements' that worsen the competition.

One would like to say these are undertaken for the good of the game, but anything that devalues and disempowers what was rugby's premier domestic competition and the crucial differentiating rugby pipeline from our rivals, cannot be for the good of South African rugby.

In fact, it's hard to see anything else than self-interest, certainly on the part of smaller unions.

Unlike the popular decline of Super Rugby, the unfettered rape of the grand old lady of South African rugby lies squarely within these borders.

You can only the look at the crowd attendances in the opening weekends of Super Rugby to realise that the product is broken.

This trendy desire to talk of 'new markets' has delivered too much ordinary rugby, too complicated a formula and too many poor teams.

Go watch a clip of, let's say, the Brumbies or Waratahs playing five or 10 years ago and compare the home crowds then, to now.

This pacification of Australian SANZAAR partner, given their absence of a decent domestic competition (that is not played in an agricultural showground), has even had a negative impact on their own game.

There is no way the Rebels and Force are Super Rugby teams.

They would struggle to compete in the proper Currie Cup.

That SANZAAR has messed up Super Rugby, is common news and they need to fix it.

Fair play, they have pretty much said so.

It's a big difference back here where we have sole control of our domestic competitions.

From the complicated cross-section system of two years ago, we were greeted by a dramatic press release from SARU which heralded the brilliant expansion of the Currie Cup to 15 teams and that there was going be more Currie Cup Rugby than ever before and boasting over 100 matches in the expansion of the oldest domestic tournament in the world.

How did that to go?

A seismic drop and crowd numbers and lack of interest in the tournament as never seen before.

In the opening weekend in the fabled north-south derby, the Blue Bulls hosted Western Province on a Friday night, one of the bigger games, in front of a poxy 500 people at Loftus.

Embarrassing.

In an ill thought out nine-team competition, over a single round, it meant, for example, the Cheetahs never had the chance to host Western province or the Sharks or the Lions. But they hosted the Pumas.

As for the Currie Cup qualifying competition. It was so well thought out and brilliant it lasted a year.

 We wrote at the time on the site that this could be a deathblow for the Currie Cup.
 
 And yet one hoped that this should be the bottoming out of the tournament and that people would come to the senses and realise it needed to be fixed before it died.
 
 That 2016 should be the nadir before the rise. Just like the Post Office and PRASA.

Yet roll on a year and we're greeted with another dramatic press release singing the praises of an exciting new strength versus strength format, that is completely vague on detail.

It boasted 'The new format will see the return of mid-week rugby' - with each of the teams scheduled to play a number of mid-week matches during the season.

Not sure what is meant by the return of mid-week matches. Since when did the Currie Cup have mid-week matches?

The truth is that it's to accommodate an extra team, in this case, the Pumas.

They could not leave them out 'politically' - i.e. in terms of votes.

The staggeringly obvious - from a marketing, quality and player welfare point of view - the best brand is a six-team double round played on weekends.

Somehow SA Rugby, in the boardroom meanderings, go completely against what they are meant to do and act in the game's best interests.

If the Currie Cup was what it was meant to be it would have caused an outcry.

But with its willful devaluing by the mother body, nobody really cares.

They are immune to it now.

Currie Cup mid-week matches?

Lions versus Pumas in a mid-week at Ellis Park. Who's going to go? Nobody and the competition will once again be relegated to the back benches.

Its common cause now in sport - less is more, strength must play strength.

However, once again we have got it wrong.

And this was to be a critical year in the competition that is so important, that was in ICU and is now on life support.

@rugby365com