The problem with the Currie Cup is not in the quality of the competition but in the continued pretence that it is still a reflection of the historical high of the Currie Cup.
My Business Day Newspaper column on Monday is dedicated to the Currie Cup – and turn what is a supposed rugby crisis into an opportunity to embrace something new and more consistent with the current age of professional rugby.
Respect the history of the Currie Cup, acknowledge it no longer has a pulse and has been a life support machine – and finally lay it to rest.
Professionalism, with the introduction of Super Rugby and a full-on Test schedule, has systematically suffocated the life of the Currie Cup.
It is not what it once was and realistically it could never be what it once was when the game turned professional and international provincial rugby became the heartbeat of South African rugby.
The pretense that the Currie Cup of 2017 speaks in any way to the pre professional era Currie Cup is outrageous. The competition of today does not in any way reflect the one established in 1891.
Super Rugby in the Premier provincial/regional competition for South African teams and the Pro 14, by nature of the strength of the overseas teams in the competition, is second on the list.
The SuperSport Challenge, the now defunct Vodacom Cup in another guise, is fourth and what gets called the Currie Cup is a combination of those players from the SuperSport Challenge and Super Rugby. It is the third best domestic player competition in South Africa and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the competition. What’s wrong with it is the name of the competition.
It’s a feeder competition to Super Rugby, Pro 14 and ultimately the Test team. In the glory years of the Currie Cup, it was the only competition played in South Africa.
And for 20 of those years, during international isolation, it was all that represented South African rugby aspirations. To hear yesterday’s heroes lament what has happened to the Currie Cup is simply a case of ignorance or a refusal to accept the sport has evolved and that professionalism changed – and changes – the landscape.
The current Currie Cup competition should have a new identity and it should be an extension for those corporates who are willing to invest in feeder competitions.
In this instance call it the Nashau/DirectAxis Cup and if the sponsorship investment changes, then whoever pays for the competition owns the competition naming rights.
It’s about understanding and accepting the pecking order of what constitutes professional rugby in this country. It’s also about acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with that pecking order.
It’s about realism that crowds of five-10 000 are good returns for a competition of this nature. It’s not about shock, horror and a crisis that the 5000 and 10 000 crowds don’t equate to the highs of the Currie Cup attendance of 30 years ago.
Back then there was no Test rugby and no Super Rugby. All that there was involved six South African provinces playing each other twice a year.
The Currie Cup in the professional era was a competition South Africans turned to because of the disappointment of Super Rugby inconsistency and only three title wins in 21 years. It was an escape from the realities of constantly being measured against the best of New Zealand and Australia.
The best players in the country would invariably only be available for a semi-final and final and that would create the illusion that the Currie Cup retained its spectator appeal, its integrity as a competition and also it’s credibility as the most revered prize among South African players.
Such thinking is ridiculous.
The biggest prize for the South African rugby player is the World Cup. Then it’s Super Rugby silverware and next will be winning in the Northern Hemisphere. Only then would a player celebrate domestic success.
It’s just the way of the professional rugby landscape.
There is no supporter interest in buying into the hype of the Currie Cup because the supporters know it’s not the Currie Cup, as was established in 1891.
Change it and confine the Currie Cup to a restful place and a reminder of all that was strong for over 100 years about amateur rugby in South Africa.
South Africa’s rugby is no different to any other rugby nation, but the romance of amateur era idealism doesn’t translate to the realities of a professional rugby landscape.
Why the obsession with retaining a name that only does a disservice to the history of the competition?
Crowd attendance has shown that the rugby public has finally accepted the Currie Cup no longer exits, in terms of strength versus strength domestic competition that showcases the best talent in South Africa. The Currie Cup of old is to be found in Super Rugby, which is the pathway to Test rugby.
That’s the way it should be.
Rename the Currie Cup, define its merits as a competition and give it a rightful place in the South African professional landscape as the most important feeder tournament to strengthening the collective of South Africa’s Super Rugby challenge.