RYAN VREDE writes that the injection of Springboks into the Currie Cup elevated the standard so significantly that what happened before them may as well have been a different competition.
It confirmed to me that South Africa’s depth in talent is not as vast as some suggest or would like to believe it is, and that there is a notable gap in quality between the very best the country has and the next tier of players.
We need to move past the idea that there is exceptional talent in abundance. The standard of the competition showed there isn’t. There was a very small pool of gifted players capable of being competent Super Rugby participants. The remainder were Vodacom Cup standard, while a significant number of players on show at the bigger unions in the Currie Cup should have been on club duty.
Certainly the quality of New Zealand’s domestic cup was better, and this for a country that boasts a fraction of South Africa’s player numbers (there are a 109 878 registered senior male players in South Africa compared to New Zealand’s 27 347). Having watched both competitions, I have to conclude that the standard of New Zealand’s fringe players is higher, although it would be difficult to support that assertion outside of this empirical evidence.
I can’t think of any young player who seriously advanced his cause for Springbok selection on the strength of his Currie Cup performances. This wasn’t always the case. As recently as 2005 and 2006 there was a burst of exceptional young bucks, among them Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Brad Barritt, Ruan Pienaar and Waylon Murray and Pierre Spies. How desperately the country needs another harvest like that.
South Africa’s strong school system will continue to service the unions with ordinary, good, very good and potential internationals, but a bigger influx of the latter two categories is essential over the next couple of years to raise the Currie Cup’s standard. A strong premier domestic cup is absolutely vital for the health of Springbok rugby.