Yesterday’s unveiling of the proposed Super 15 competition structure makes one wonder why Andy Marinos and SARU wasted so much time, and so many column inches, in the lead up to giving John O’Neill exactly what he wanted anyway. The belligerent Australian has, as always, ridden roughshod right over the needs and demands of his supposed partners and bullied his way to a structure that is far less a compromise than a total realisation of all his goals.
Let’s not even get into the speculation about whish country will supply the 15th team. The fact that this team will be based in the Australian conference means that, for logistical reasons, it cannot possibly be anything other than an Australian franchise. The tender process will be a farce, so long as O’Neill is a part of the selection panel, so SANZAR might as well save themselves further time and money by awarding it to Melbourne right now.
No, it’s the length of the expanded tournament that concerns me most. The current calendar sees the Super 14 run from February until the end of May, with incoming tours and the Tri-Nations taking up all of June and July, as well as the bulk of August. The Currie Cup currently runs from July until October, with a typical end-of-your tour after that. The season, as it stands, generally requires the first part of the Currie Cup to be played without the Springboks, who usually become available as the competition enters its crunch phase from late August onwards.
The current proposal will see an expanded Super Rugby series take up every moment of available playing time from March right through to the end of August, with the Tri-Nations only to be played in September. We’re told that the only deference to SARU’s demand that “we will not compromise on the Currie Cup” is that the Tri-Nations will end early for the Springboks every year, allowing the Boks to be available for Currie Cup duty in October. The elephant in the room, though, is this: what happens during the absolutely inevitable period of overlap between the Super 15 and the Currie Cup? Unless they somehow manage to reduce the latter to an ultra-compact 2-month competition that runs from late August through to mid-October, there is no way to avoid the situation where any Currie Cup team that shares players with a Super Rugby franchise (the big five, in other words) will be forced to contest the nation’s premier domestic competition with 26 or more top players unavailable.
This is completely different to the inevitable weakening due to Bok commitments, which may see a worst-case of perhaps 10 players unavailable.
No, the fact remains that SARU have exposed the proverbial nought here for John O’Neill’s sole pleasure, despite all protestations in the media that they would never do so. The Currie Cup, as we know it, is dead and SARU have killed it. Don’t be too surprised to see the likes of Griquas, the Leopards and the SWD Eagles become regular Currie Cup holder from 2011 on.