The Currie Cup action at the weekend seemed to be played in slow motion at times, when compared to the pace of Super Rugby.
The rugby was enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong. The matches were exciting and the results were close. Just one point in it Johannesburg, just two points in Durban and not a point in it in Cape Town when the youthful Bulls drew with champions Western Province.
There was positive intent from all the sides and the focus was on attacking rugby. But the intensity was a definite step down from what we’ve seen for the past six months, both at the breakdown and also in defence.
The South African Rugby Union and SuperSport have done everything to tug at the heartstrings of the South African rugby traditionalist. There’s been a big sell around this season’s Currie Cup. It’s been described as the oldest provincial competition in the world, the most watched, the best attended and the greatest.
Ex players have spoken of the glory days. Coaches and current players have gone on record to say it’s the one they covet most as South Africans, the Currie Cup has been restored to its original look and for the first time ever the team that wins the competition will also get a monetary reward of R1.8 million. The runners up with get R1.2 million.
I love the tradition of South Africa’s provincial competition and I do prefer the traditional jerseys and the traditional colours of each province, when compared to the pink of the Super Rugby Bulls.
But no matter how one dresses up the modern day version of the Currie Cup and how one tries to talk up the merits of the competition, it is a feeder tournament to Super Rugby and it only assumes Super Rugby-like status for the play-off two weekends when the current Springboks return from the Rugby Championship.
See it in the light of this. Don’t make comparisons to Super Rugby because it is comparing apples with pears. Judge a player on the intensity of the competition.
For the more experienced it provides a less intense stage on which to regain confidence after the troubles of Super Rugby and for the next generation of youthful talent it doesn’t offer the baptism of fire it once did pre Super Rugby’s introduction in 1996.
Western Province, a year ago, played some of the most scintillating rugby in the leagues stages of the Currie Cup and many in the Cape asked why the Stormers couldn’t replicate it?
The answer was in the quality of the teams the Stormers play, the tempo of the game, the intensity and the more effectively structured defences.
Defences in the Currie Cup league stages will offer plenty of width, space on the outside and gaping holes. It will therefore give the illusion that some players are a lot better than is the case.
Enjoy the Currie Cup for its sporting theatre, for the drama of a last minute try and the anguish of a failed last minute conversion to win the game. Equally, the elation when that conversion goes over, as happened in Durban on Friday night.
But don’t look at the Boks in the Rugby Championship and question why those players are in green and 90 apparent attacking geniuses are playing in South Africa’s domestic competition. It would be ignorant.
Those selected for the Rugby Championship represent the form players in South Africa and they also are better than those who will prosper in the less demanding provincial environment. A counter to this statement could be made if limited to the claims of a handful of players. Generally the best are playing Test rugby and the next tier is looking good in traditional provincial colours.
The Currie Cup will continue to be played with enthusiasm and sold as the greatest provincial rugby tournament with equal enthusiasm, but it’s the Rugby Championship that will rightly dominate discussion in the next two months.
Another topical discussion will be the new scrum laws, when require the props to bind before the engage is called. Only then does the shove happen.
I liked what I saw over the weekend of Currie Cup matches when it came to the scrum. The adjustment to the scrum set seemed to reward the team with the stronger scrum, which is the way it should be.
Hopefully this will sort out the mess that the scrum had become. If only the IRB law makers would be as accommodating in reintroducing rucking at the breakdown.