Currie Cup now just fools' gold
The cold blooded drape of the grand old lady of South African rugby, the Currie Cup, seems to have gone largely unnoticed.
The sponsorless, re-formatted competition starts this week amidst much confusion – almost as confusing as the new Super Rugby format.
There is no doubt that this year's Currie Cup is ill thought through and was passed by an organisation which has stumbled from crisis to crisis, an organisation that failed to find a sponsor for this once prestigious tournament.
Sacrificed to the political expedience of smaller union votes.
For one it's important to appreciate, not only the rich tradition of this competition as the excitement it garners towards the end of every year, but to appreciate that a high level domestic competition like this is the envy of our colleagues in SANZAAR.
The Australians have tried on several locations to get a domestic competition of the requisite level, but have failed – thus their insistence in extending the Super Rugby drudge and it's change from being what was a short exciting extremely high level Super 12 competition to a complex, drawn out affair with plummeting audiences and oft won by the team with the best injury roster.
To say that this year's Currie Cup is watered down is a dramatic understatement.
The first phase of the tournament sees all 14 unions plus Namibia partaking in what is tragically being called the Currie Cup.
The Super Rugby franchises partake in this competition with, in essence, their second teams – whilst the remaining nine, playing with their first teams, are playing for places in the second phase or, if you like, the main Currie Cup.
So it is of much importance to them.
However, the super rugby franchise teams are guaranteed their participation in the main Currie Cup, including the Eastern Province Kings (not the SARU Super Rugby entity) – this team may well be worse than many of the non-qualifiers.
There are no log-point carryovers, nor is there a trophy for this first phase of the so called Currie Cup.
In essence this means the Super Rugby franchise Currie Cup teams are playing a series of 14 friendlies – whilst the remaining teams are playing in life or death fixtures to qualify.
To regard this Thursday's (yes, Thursday) as a 'Classico' between the Griffons and the Griquas, or this Friday's match at Newlands between the traditional rivals of Western Province and the Blue Bulls as the Currie Cup is a travesty.
It may be semantics, but this first phase should have been called something else.
Err, like the shorter sharper Vodacom Cup, before sponsors for it, the Currie Cup and the national team were lost.
It is clearly poorly thought through.
Its just like the old Vodacom Cup, without the competitive element of a trophy.
This year's Currie Cup is the most dramatic change of late to what was a winning formula, but its downgrading has been coming for a while – a case of the frog in the increasingly hot pot of water.
From just a few years ago of when the Springboks would play the last games after a competitive of double round, up until 2015 when we saw the Currie Cup teams is divided into two meaningless groups, this year the final phase will only be a single round – which means if you are a connoisseur of the Lions playing the Sharks in the Currie Cup, you will only see them at your home ground every second year.
So ill conceived is it that, at one stage, they muted having quarterfinals, which is interesting in a nine team competition!
The season is also to finish earlier, which is good for player welfare, but probably poor for our for critical production line, the Currie cup.
With the turmoil in South African rugby – the coaching at national level, administrative level internal politics, poorly structured corporate governance system, fleeing sponsors and the mess in the Eastern Cape – this mutilation of the Currie Cup has gone largely unnoticed.
SARU's own press release in announcing the makeover says: "The change means that more Currie Cup rugby will be played – 166 matches compared to 76 in 2015. "
Has it worked for Super Rugby? For the Rugby Championship? No.
These are great unions and brands in this tradition that ensures, from our marvelous school system, we produce the most talented rugby athletes in the world.
One accepts that Test players must rest, but that can still ensure a top level, TV-watched domestic competition. A
Super Rugby is increasingly diluted with weaker teams entering and with 54 Boks playing overseas, the Currie Cup must develop our next tier.
To treat it like we do now is rugby hara kiri.
If the Currie Cup average crowd this year is over 1500 we will eat our collective hats.
It is a case of one day Old Mother Hubbard will go the cupboard and think Oh dear, what on earth did I do to the Currie Cup.