The Currie Cup was once the crown jewel in South African rugby. Setting aside the horrible injustices of the past, purely as a sporting event the competition has a long and proud history. This coming Saturday the Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls will do battle for the 2016 title, just as they did in 2009; the last time either side reached the final. However the past two decades have seen a steady decline in interest in the tournament and something needs to be done. If you’re a traditionalist, this is the part where you might want to stop reading what I have to say.
Photo credit: Nick Lourens
It was estimated that around 20 000 people attended the second semi-final between the Blue Bulls and Western Province. This fixture is easily the biggest traditional battle on the domestic calendar and by Thursday only 3 000 tickets had been sold for the Loftus Versfeld clash. In years gone by, Thursday before the match no one in Pretoria would have stood a chance of buying a ticket anywhere. So what has happened?
Well the move to professionalism has largely left the Currie Cup behind. The modern calendar kicks off with Super Rugby, which now spans all the way into July having ended in May previously. Super Rugby takes a break in June for international Tests and then after the franchise tournament’s final it is straight into the Rugby Championship and by the time Argentina, Australia and South Africa are still fighting it out for that event’s wooden spoon, the Currie Cup has long been in full swing and heading for its climax.
That leaves the country’s best players only available for about three rounds of Currie Cup rugby. Essentially it is now a ‘B’ team event that can be overturned drastically by semi-final time with certain teams heavily strengthened by their returning Springboks. Think Blue Bulls in 2009. The capital side squeezed into the final four, were bolstered by all their Boks and powered to the title. Unfair? Farcical? You decide.
Photo credit: Nick Lourens
I was pleased SARU scrapped the Vodacom Cup. Firstly because it’s relevance and impact remained questionable but also because the Currie Cup is the de facto Vodacom Cup now. Here is my suggestion:
- Scrap the current Currie Cup format. It has served the sport well for more than 120 years but it is time for a revamp.
- Do away with the provincial unions. After all, professional sport is about franchises not provincial unions.
- Play the Currie Cup within Super Rugby. There are more than enough derbies within Super Rugby so these contests can count towards Currie Cup points as well and if you really want to, you can still stage a Grand Final at the end of the season.
- Each franchise must be responsible for organising its own feeder system i.e. a competitive club competition that can also be televised.
I believe this is the best way forward. However, do you really think the president of Boland or Northern Free State would agree to something like this? Only if they were afforded a very comfortable position within the Stormers or Cheetahs respectively in this instance of course. And to use a phrase I have heard used a few times in the last week, it will probably require turkeys voting for Thanksgiving. So my proposal is unlikely to see the light of day unless SARU’s 14 provincial union presidents vote in favour of it. And therein lies the biggest problem of all. Too many weaklings with too much power means South African rugby is being eaten alive, instead of feasting at the sport’s top table.