The Currie Cup should be played over a two-month period in order to accommodate an expanded Super Rugby tournament.
While the Australian and New Zealand Rugby Unions would like to see Super Rugby played from March to August (with a break in June for incoming Tests), SA Rugby wants to protect the 120-year-old Currie Cup which starts at the end of June and ends in late October.
Australia, of course, does not have a provincial competition while the NZ Cup (formerly the NPC) has been seriously devalued in recent seasons because the All Blacks haven’t taken part. The Currie Cup, though, remains popular in South Africa, with SA Rugby last year selling the tournament’s TV rights to SuperSport from 2011 to 2015.
However, even the Currie Cup’s biggest supporters will admit that the competition only comes to life in early September when the Springboks return from Tri-Nations duty and the provinces are back at full strength. In July and August, public interest in the Currie Cup is low, with dismal crowd figures backing this up.
If SA Rugby was clever, it would accommodate an expanded Super Rugby tournament by reducing the length of the Currie Cup from four months to two (September and October). Instead of having eight Premier Division teams play each other on a home-and-away basis, six teams (the big five plus the ‘Spears’) could meet each other just once, with the top two teams on the log going through to the final. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: having semi-finals when there are only five realistic title contenders simply rewards mediocrity (last year, the Lions qualified despite losing six matches). If there was only a final, every group match would be a must-win.
Most importantly, a shortened Currie Cup would allow the Springboks to take part in a bigger chunk of the competition (depending on when the expanded Tri-Nations takes place). This would please sponsors Absa and attract a lot more supporters to the stadiums. It was no surprise when Loftus recently sold out for the Bulls-Stormers game – all of the available Boks were on show and fans will gladly pay money to watch the best.
The Currie Cup, quite simply, should be about quality and not quantity. There is enough room in the rugby calendar for it and an expanded Super Rugby tournament to co-exist happily. Let’s just hope SA Rugby realises this before scuppering a Sanzar deal that could revitalise the southern-hemisphere game.
By Simon Borchardt