Don’t fool yourselves

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says South African rugby fans must keep Currie Cup results in context.

The rugby in Cape Town on Saturday was vintage Western Province; a reminder of a golden generation when Province were kings of the domestic castle. They smashed the traditional foe from the north, and they did it emphatically and they did it with style.

It was a fantastic performance from a team who a week earlier lost in Johannesburg to the Lions, who in turn lost at home to Griquas. It was a night of bliss in Cape Town, but it was one night. Enjoy it. Live the 80 minutes and celebrate the match.

If only.

Province, apparently, have turned the corner. Those players who are on national duty are no longer required. Jean de Villiers can head back to Munster and Allister Coetzee has finally broken the shackles of Rassie Erasmus’s supposed dictatorship and defensive diet.

The social network bloggers, predominantly with a Cape Town address, needed no second invitation to tell South Africa and the rest of the world that their team had scored five tries, played rugby apparently foreign to any other team and finally produced the blueprint for the future.

The only thing more painful than a losing Province supporter is a winning one. Win or lose, they remain demanding and nagging and fail to recognise the moment, live the occasion and celebrate the victory.

Defeat is never defeat and victory is never just victory. The passion is the positive, but the ignorance is too much of a negative because of an absolute disregard of context.

This was not a Super Rugby match and it was not a Test match. It was domestic rugby and it is no longer the measurement of our rugby. At least it should not be.

You only have to look at the Lions to know this. Champions of the Currie Cup last year, the Lions ended 15th out of 15 in Super Rugby.

But already the expectation is that Province, in the guise of the Stormers, will dismantle whoever visits Newlands in next year’s Super Rugby contest. Already every Province player is a victim of Heyneke Meyer’s alleged Blue Bulls bias.

Applaud what Province produced at Newlands. How could you not? But for goodness sake take into account the nature of the competition, the absence of so many international players and the fact that Currie Cup league rugby cannot be compared with Super Rugby; let alone Test rugby.

The love for the Currie Cup is a South African strength, but it is also a curse because it provides an escape every year from the reality of Super Rugby. It allows too many to quickly forget why South African teams may have failed when they were asked to consistently beat the best in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The Currie Cup is the feeder to Super Rugby and the two competitions need to be separated, especially in assessing the performance of players.

The giants of the Currie Cup are too often the dwarves of Super Rugby.

Province were superb in beating the Bulls 42-6 in the Currie Cup. The Sharks were marginally better at home in edging the Cheetahs 34-32, and Griquas left Johannesburg victors after an explosive first 30 minutes. It all looked so good when viewed in isolation, just as our rugby always did when the rest of the world refused to play against us.

View the domestic performances as such and don’t make comparisons with Super Rugby and with what is being produced at Test level. It is unfair on the players on national duty.

South African rugby, more than any other southern hemisphere nation, has protected the tradition of its premier domestic competition. The supporters of the game in this country are the reason there is such an interest in the Currie Cup. But the Currie Cup of today does not compare with the pre-professionalism one and Super Rugby. It is secondary in significance and the greater prize is not domestic dominance and bragging rights in October. The greater prize is which South African team can claim glory in Super Rugby.

What happens in the Currie Cup is also no measure of what happens in Super Rugby, just as in Super Rugby, success offers no guaranteed positive in relation to Test rugby.

Which brings me back to Newlands and Johannesburg. Don’t be conned by a belief that the glory of a domestic night — when it all seems so easy and so perfect — is anything but a good night. The euphoria has to be contextualised just as the pessimism has to be bottled on the night of defeat.

Province losing to the Lions a week ago was meaningless in the context of anything beyond the Currie Cup. Equally so, beating the Bulls at home.

Recognise — and don’t confuse — the occasion.