Decisive action needed to save Currie Cup

RYAN VREDE writes the organisers of the Currie Cup need to be innovative if they hope to stay the tournament’s execution.

Saru CEO Jurie Roux on Monday conceded the length of the Super Rugby campaign, which stretched over six months, affected the Currie Cup. That impact is felt more in a World Cup year, but with a Four Nations set to interject the 2012 Super Rugby campaign (which will end in August) and further expansion mooted for 2013, the Currie Cup is in imminent danger of becoming a complete non-event.

Roux was not part of the SA Rugby team that rolled over meekly in the Super Rugby negotiations with its Sanzar partners Australia and New Zealand in 2010. Australia undoubtedly benefited most from the outcome, primarily because they don’t have a domestic competition to consider and expansion therefore was an appealing alternative.

It is still unclear what concessions were made in those dealings for South Africa, the largest rugby market of the trio. If there were any, they are not significant, and the health of the Currie Cup appears to have been a low priority.

The pertinent question key decision-makers at Saru have to ask themselves is how much premium they place on the competition. If the answer is that they still value it highly, they need to negotiate the next Super Rugby format with that in mind. Expansion of any sort will only further serve to undermine the longevity of the world’s oldest domestic competition.

Saru will argue that the Currie Cup still has appeal, both in terms of the quality of rugby on show and commercially. However, it will increasingly be contested largely by players elevated from Vodacom Cup teams. This will in turn make it difficult to sell to large multinationals and broadcasters, who will insist on a solid return on their substantial investment.

In an attempt to garner more interest in a 2012 season saturated by Super Rugby and Four Nations, the Currie Cup will be contested between six teams. However, organisers should consider an even more abbreviated format if they hope to sustain interest in the tournament.

I’d suggest one league-phase match against each opponent followed by a semi-final round (replicating the 2010 Super 14 format) as a viable option. The tournament would conclude in seven weeks (as opposed to the 16 it currently takes or the 12 it will take in 2012), and the result of every match would potentially be decisive in the play-off race, making for more compelling viewing.

This is a long shot because there would be a substantial loss in broadcast and advertising revenue. And if we’ve come to understand one thing about rugby’s administrators it is that swollen coffers trump common sense every time.

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