VIDEO: Alarm bells ringing for Currie Cup
The Currie Cup is running the risk of becoming a second-tier development competition and losing its aura as South Africa’s premier domestic competition.
Apart from having to compete for airtime with major international competitions and series, South Africa’s migration to Europe and the United Rugby Championship is going to further detract from the attention it gets.
Western Province coach John Dobson is one of the voices that has been warning for years that the status of the Currie Cup should be protected.
He now admits it may be a lost cause, unless something dramatic changes soon.
Dobson, with six years of Currie Cup coaching experience behind him, admitted the constant changes in format is not helping the cause of those hoping to ensure the Currie Cup remains one of the world’s most revered competitions.
“Other major competitions around the world are clearer on how their competitions are structured,” Dobson told @rugby365com.
He admitted the constant tinkering with the competition format is a “frustration”.
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“There is a desire to keep the Currie Cup great,” the WP coach said, adding: “I don’t know how successful it will be to make it just a development competition – because then it is really no longer the Currie Cup.
“I have been on the record a few times saying I am concerned about the future [of the Currie Cup], because it is a better competition than what our traditional rugby partners in Australia and New Zealand have.
“It has helped with the development of our players and what it has been really good at is getting young guys to play Super Rugby and going forward the United Rugby Championship [in Europe from September].
“It [the Currie Cup] is possibly in a bit of trouble at the moment, because I don’t know how it fits in with the URC and the Northern Hemisphere season. That is something we have to be aware of.
“It is a unique selling point of South African rugby and there is no doubt it is a tournament that is atrophying.”
He said while the efforts of SA Rugby should be applauded, given the COVID-19 challenges, there are “alarm bells” ringing around the tournament.
He added that playing the Currie Cup in the same window as the URC would ‘relegate’ the Currie Cup even more.
“It is very tricky times for the tournament.”
The other aspect of the Currie Cup that is of concern – certainly the 2021 version – is the decline in the defensive standards.
The last three rounds have seen a rash of games in which the aggregate score is beyond 70.
In Round Eight Western Province beat the Cheetahs 40-39, the Sharks beat the Bulls 35-28 and the Lions beat Griquas 45-42.
Round Seven saw Griquas beat the Sharks 37-27, the Bulls beat Western Province 34-13 and the Pumas berat the Lions 36-33.
Going back to Round Six the Bulls beat the Lions 40-21, Western Province beat the Pumas 37-23 and the Sharks beat the Cheetahs 47-30.
Some uninformed pundits have described it as ‘champagne rugby’, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It is the defensive statistics that tell the real story.
The table-topping Sharks have conceded 15 tries in five matches (an average of three tries per match), scoring just 21 tries. They have also been awarded points (four per match) for three cancelled matches.
The second-placed Bulls have conceded 18 tries in six matches (also three per match), scored 21 and got free points for two cancelled matches.
The third-placed Griquas have conceded 26 tries in seven matches (almost four per match) and scored just 25 – with just one freebie match.
Fourth-placed Province – with no freebie matches – have conceded a whopping 33 tries in eight matches (four-plus per match) and scored just 28.
The two teams with the ‘best’ defensive records are the last-placed Cheetahs and the Pumas, just ahead of them in sixth place – both conceding 17 tries in six matches.
Asked if attack is dominating the landscape at the moment, Dobson was loathe to speak on behalf of other teams, but admitted his team was “defensively poor” in the 40-39 win over the Cheetahs at Newlands at the weekend.
“I think tries are probably coming a little bit easy at the moment,” Dobson said.
“It is a concern. If this is to be a high-level competition you don’t really want 40-39 scores.
“I agree there might be some flashpoints around defence.
“We certainly weren’t satisfied with our defence.”