The ABSA Currie Cup has become quite gripping, with the interest in the domestic competition being raised as the end of the league stage looms and the knock-outs arrive.
But it is going to be interesting to see the attendances for the play-off matches, for up until recently there were few games which drew big crowds. While there is a lot of talk about strength versus strength, what the paying spectators really want to see is the top players in action.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that the big north/south derby in Cape Town in July drew only 21 000 people, and the crowd for the plum clash with the Currie Cup champions the Cheetahs a week later was not much bigger than that. These were both competitive games, so the key to the empty seats was the absence from the WP side of what that stage amounted to about nine Springboks.
Griquas coach Dawie Theron, speaking after his team’s match against Western Province last week, made a good point when he said that rugby in the platteland does need to be encouraged. Too many great players come out of the Northern Cape and other such areas for SA Rugby to afford to ignore it.
But clearly the premier domestic competition is in need of a revamp to fall in line with what the paying public demands – and that means a proper strength versus strength component to the competition. For the Currie Cup to remain meaningful, it has to determine which union has the right to be recognised as South Africa’s top province.
At the moment, with so much of the tournament being played without the Springboks, that is not happening, and it will rob the play-offs of something if WP, who provided the bulk of the national players this year, are not there.
At the bidding of the hard working person who represents Absa, the Currie Cup sponsor, I have tried to come up with a constructive solution, one that will benefit everyone involved with SA rugby, not just the wealthy bigger provinces. It would have to entail buy-in though from all the sponsors, not just Absa.
In a nutshell, I envisage the South African season to be divided up in the following way:
February to May
The Super 14 is the primary focus, with the back-up competitions being the Varsity Cup and a national club championship, with the two winners of those concurrent competitions playing each other in a Grand Final in May.
End May to end August
Springboks are the main interest, with the incoming tours and the Tri-Nations, backed up by an under-strength provincial tournament. This is when the Vodacom Cup should be played, with the competition being much stronger than it was previously as rank and file Super 14 players who don’t make it to Springbok selection will be included. The standard of rugby will be higher, and thus provide better preparation for Super 14 and other higher levels. All 14 South African provinces should be included, with the teams divided into two sections.
September to end October
A full-strength, six team Currie Cup is the primary focus, with the national age group competitions providing the secondary focus. The five Test unions would be entrenched in this competition, with the best minor union from the Vodacom Cup (it could be ABSA Cup) providing the sixth team. The Currie Cup semifinals to be done away with so that the competition can be fitted into the time provided, with the top two teams contesting the final.
This proposal would ensure that all the smaller unions have a chance to be part of a reasonably competitive major competition, with places like Port Elizabeth getting to play host to teams like Western Province again – surely no bad thing. They also have incentive to get through to the streamlined Currie Cup proper played over the last two months of the season.
By doing away with the Vodacom Cup during the Super 14 season and replacing it with club and tertiary institution competitions, SA rugby will be giving this important level of the game a much needed opportunity to be show-cased. As I said, I see winners all round…Tweet