Naas calls for consolidation

Naas Botha says the South African Rugby Union needs to take a serious look at how sustainable a 14 team Absa Currie Cup would be.

Whether the competition will boast an extended format is still to be deliberated by the Saru executive but Botha believes that decision could be vital to the future of the of the game in this country.

“If they want to reintroduce a fourteen team domestic competition, the structure needs to support all those teams,” he said on Boots and All. “At the moment it doesn’t even support all eight involved in the Currie Cup.

“For example, the Pumas struggled to be competitive all season but still we toy with the idea of introducing more teams that are weaker than them into the mix. It doesn’t make sense,” he asserted. “It’s in the best interest of South African rugby that you have all your teams in your premier domestic competition as competitive as possible. Not just five teams running away with it.”

Asked whether there was a practical solution to move towards making the smaller unions more competitive and as a result making a fourteen team competition more viable, Botha said the key lies in spreading the player resources.

“If you look at the Bulls, they have two top quality flyhalves in Derick Hougaard and Morné Steyn and a host of very talented youngsters coming through the ranks. The Sharks have the same situation where Francois Steyn, Butch James, Scott Speeding and others all compete for one spot.

“Whoever is on form plays for most of the season, while the others all sit on the bench or don’t make the squad at all. This situation is not healthy for South African rugby,” he said. “They all have to be playing. The solution is to send them to play at smaller unions.

“As a coach you must say to the player: ‘Look, you’re not playing regularly and I want you to move to a smaller union to get game time to ensure that your skills are developing’. Then maybe in two years or so recall the player when you feel he is ready.”

Botha’s offerings are by no means represents revolutionary thinking. Liberal rugby thinkers have for a long time suggested that this represents the best way to sustain the exorbitant amount of professional players we have in this country.

What his comments do achieve though, is to again rouse those liberal voices from a slumber to point out the simple rationale here: Strengthening your smaller unions means your domestic competition becomes more competitive. This in turn means that you are producing a better quality Super 14 player and ultimately a more complete international player.

He concluded by subtly stimulating thought about the prospect of a domestic competition that wasn’t a forgone conclusion.

“We now have a situation where five of eight teams have the chance of making a semi-final. Imagine how exciting it would be if you had all eight competing for four places.”

By Ryan Vrede