Currie Cup under threat

South Africa’s premier domestic competition faces an uncertain future.

During Sanzar’s Super Rugby expansion negotiations, acting SA Rugby MD Andy Marinos insisted his organisation would not allow the Currie Cup – South Africa’s premier domestic competition – to be devalued in any way. So it was somewhat surprising when Sanzar announced a new Super 15 format that will see the southern-hemisphere regional tournament finish in early August (instead of late May) and the Springboks’ Tri-Nations campaign wrap up in late September (instead of early September) from 2011.

Considering the Currie Cup final has to be played at the end of October, at the latest, because of the Springboks’ Test commitments in November, the Boks will only be available for two or three matches of the Currie Cup league stage (out of 14) and the play-offs (if their teams qualify). That’s four or five weeks in a tournament that runs for three months.

Of course, in all his public statements, Marinos failed to mention that SA Rugby had no choice but to fight for the Currie Cup in its Sanzar meetings because in 2007 it sold the TV rights for all incoming Test tours and Currie Cup tournaments from 2011-2015 to SuperSport.

You may recall the controversy it caused at the time, with SuperSport paying R700 million – considered to be a bargain – including a R30 million ‘sweetener’ that allowed SA Rugby to show a profit when it released its financial statements in early 2008. SA Rugby also didn’t give rival broadcasters and the SABC a chance to tender, which infuriated then-Saru vice-president Koos Basson, who described the agreement as ‘flawed’.

However, the fact remains that the Currie Cup will have to be played until 2015, but what will happen to it after that? Discussions have already been held between Sanzar members about increasing the Super 15 to 18 teams in 2013 (one more South African side and possibly two from Japan).

While Marinos insists there would just be more conference matches, and the tournament wouldn’t be much longer, who’s to say that SA Rugby won’t buckle again and agree to a Super 18 that ends in late August, with the Tri-Nations finishing in mid- October? The Currie Cup would then become a glorified Vodacom Cup, with Springboks playing exclusively for their Super Rugby franchises and the national side.

Perhaps it’s time South Africans accepted that while the Currie Cup is a special competition with more than a century of history, there’s simply not enough room for it and an expanded Super Rugby competition in the calendar.

By Simon Borchardt

– This first appeared in SA Rugby magazine