AUDIO: Currie Cup must remain SA's flagship
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The passionate emotions of the curtailed Currie Cup have hardly subsided and already there is another desperate plea not to further devalue the competition.
Free State Cheetahs coach Franco Smith, in what will be his last domestic season before heading off to take up a position as Italy coach, said they still enjoy testing themselves against other South African teams.
The last two seasons the Cheetahs were forced to split their resources between the Currie Cup and Pro14 – as the two competitions overlapped.
However, with the 2019 Currie Cup season to a single round of six matches, the Cheetahs will be done domestically before heading back to Europe.
Smith, speaking after the team’s 43-27 win over the Bulls at the weekend, they want to be the best they can be.
“The Currie Cup is a very proud and important competition to win,” he added, saying it must remain the flagship competition in South Africa.
“I know not all the Springboks are playing in it, but there is enough Springboks playing,” the 46-year-old Italy-bound coach said.
“The way it is reloaded [revived] by SARU in this period, has made a huge difference.
“Hopefully we can maintain that [focus].
“We as South Africans have a responsibility to maintain our domestic competition and make it grand, make it the best.
“[We must] not degrade it ourselves.
“If this is an opportunity of bringing [through] the new Springboks, then we must advocate that.”
He said the traditional rivalries in the Currie Cup raise the competition’s profile.
“I’ve lived all over the world,” Smith said, adding: “We’ve played [in the] Pro14 and the domestic teams, the derbies amongst the different franchises – the Welshmen, the Irish franchises even the Premiership and the Top 14 – there is real competition amongst those guys.
“That’s the benefit of the whole of South Africa.
“We as South Africans must never, ever downgrade this competition.
“It must stay the flagship competition and it does have a different flavour, now that’s it’s only single round.
“If you make a mistake, it puts a lot of pressure on you.
“In saying that, I honestly feel this was South Africa’s success recipe for a long time and we should maintain that.”
Smith has signed to coach Italy from January 2020.
The Cheetahs play the Griquas in Bloemfontein this coming Saturday and with the visiting team getting their 2019 Currie Cup campaign off to a good start – with back-to-back wins – Smith added that his team need to improve their match fitness and overall game.
“I am really satisfied with the result, but there is a lot of hard work ahead.
“We lacked a bit of game fitness. The fact that we did not have any sides to prepare against after the pre-season showed – especially on attack.
“There is a lot of room for improvement.”
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RECAP: Griquas v Pumas