SA’s ailing asset

RYAN VREDE writes the Currie Cup has completely lost its prestige and is now no more than a platform for some young players to stake a claim for a Super Rugby contract.

I’ve watched every round of the tournament and have been completely uninspired. Certainly there are a handful of promising young players emerging, but overall the standard is decidedly mediocre for what used to be South Africa’s showpiece tournament. This of course has been the case for some time, but the quality on offer in 2012 is the lowest it has been in years, even with the current six-team format.

South Africans often boast of their bountiful player resources. This country is undoubtedly blessed in that regard, by quantity doesn’t translate to quality if the Currie Cup is an indication.

The quality will rise in the closing rounds of the league phase when the Springboks return and reach its climax in the playoffs. This is what South Africans will have to become used to – two and a half months of mediocrity followed by an injection of quality for a couple of weeks.

An extended Super Rugby tournament has contributed in part to this. The wizards at the South African Rugby Union who negotiated the Super Rugby deal did so at the expense of the world’s oldest domestic competition. This made financial sense to them, of course, as there was more cash to be made from broadcasting revenue and commercial opportunities that arose from Super Rugby than there were for the Currie Cup. Australia, with no domestic competition to rival South Africa or New Zealand, shafted their partners in the negotiation and emerged as the big winner, with more Australia derbies and a guaranteed team in the play-offs despite having the weakest conference.

More teams will be accommodated in Super Rugby in 2015, which is likely to mean the tournament cutting deeper into August. Where will that leave the Currie Cup? Will we see a one-round, five match league phase followed by semi-finals and a final? It would certainly heighten the stakes and make for more entertaining viewing, albeit not because of the quality of the product. Some club-standard players will continue to give their mates reason to toast with their TV cameos, when those players should have been watching from their couches. But this is what the Currie Cup has become – the playground of the ordinary.

There is no immediate solution on the horizon. There is no way Sanzar will trim Super Rugby to pit only the very best teams against each other and in so doing reducing the time it takes to complete the tournament. In an ideal world I’d have a Super 10 that starts in early February and finishes 11 weeks later, with a one-round, six-team Currie Cup commencing thereafter. If, for example, Western Province host the Sharks in 2012, they will travel to Kings Park in 2013.

This would allow Springboks players to compete in the Currie Cup before the June Tests. The game’s most important assets – the players and supporters – win, with a higher quality product and roughly the same amount of game time.

This is a pipe dream. The tournament that was once the pride of a nation is being reduced to rubble, serving as no more than an opportunity for aspirant young bucks to impress their coaches. So sad.

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