SA Rugby heading for an implosion

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content on 16 Aug 2011 at 12:30
Tagged with : , , ,

A common trend in South African rugby is the emphasis on short term gains rather than long term vision.

I know there is a Tri-Nations tournament on the go, and I also realise that there is a little event called the Rugby World Cup just over 20 days away, but I am absolutely flabbergasted that not one major media source has focussed on the recent decision by SA Rugby to reduce the Currie Cup to a six-team Premier Division and 8-team First Division structure from 2012.

I posed the question on whether people like or dislike the suggested format on a social media network last week, and even then I was shocked by the lack of interest on the subject by normal fans out there.

The only conclusion I can therefore draw from all this is that everybody agrees with the suggested format, or we don’t really care.


SA Rugby will sell the new format to the general public on the face of the Currie Cup now being contested on a strength-vs-strength basis – a model the general public have always wanted.  But is it really?

Let’s be clear, the decision to change the current format was not a proactive decision by SA Rugby to improve the state of the game in South Africa, it was a forced, reactive gesture to address the ripple-effect of a previous decision made by the governing body when they entered into the new Super Rugby agreement with SANZAR.  This is quite simply bad business – you don’t make the icing for a cake before you bake it.

The concept of a strength-vs-strength competition format suggests that you will have teams of relative equal strength and depth to compete against one another.  In that sense, the current Currie Cup competition falls in that category as the results so far suggest.  The problem is that it’s a strength-vs-strength competition which excludes the elite players of South Africa, and given the expanded Super Rugby competition and Tri-Nations competition (which will become a Four-Nations) from 2012, don’t expect this to change in a non-World Cup year.


New agreements, new competition formats or streamlining of structures should all have some sort of benefit for the game of rugby.  In a professional environment that benefit is largely financial, and SA Rugby will proudly declare the massive financial benefits they received from the new Newscorp deal, and the millions SuperSport paid for the rights to televise the Currie Cup for the next couple of years.

So where there is no doubt that the immediate financial benefit to SA Rugby might be huge, we have to consider the long term sustainability of it, or to put it differently, at what cost do, or will these deals come at in the very near future.

For SA Rugby to ensure long term sustainability of the game in South Africa they need to consider the product they are managing and selling.  The product (rugby) is almost exclusively dependent on its main resource, the players.  The players, and quality of players directly influence the product and the quality of the product.  The quality of the product has a direct influence on the value, or perceived value of the product, and this value will ultimately determine consumer (fans) buy-in.

As SA Rugby is limited as an organisation to sell this product directly to the public (apart from gate-takings at actual matches), they rely on mediums and partners such as SuperSport to buy the product from them, and in turn, sell it off to the mass-market.  Through this process, additional income streams in the form of sponsorships are also generated.

For all this to happen successfully though, organisations like SuperSport need to identify some form of value in the product they are buying or investing into, knowing they too can generate a profit in selling it off to the consumer market.

So what value (benefit), or future value has the recent agreements and structural changes created for SA Rugby?

Player Welfare

Players are rugby’s most valuable asset, and ensuring you continue to produce quality players are essential to the long-term sustainability of the game.

In a recent interview the Bulls director of rugby, Heyneke Meyer, said that the new Super Rugby format will see players careers cut short (from what it is currently) by as much as 3 to 4 years.  In other words, the shelf-life of players are going to be reduced significantly.  Even one of South Africa’s greatest players, Fourie du Preez, recently mentioned that he is happy to get away from Super Rugby as it is physical exhausting for players who cannot sustain that level or amount of rugby for such long periods (Du Preez is joining a Japanese club from 2012).

Most current Super Rugby coaches have also emphasised that the extended Super Rugby competition would require them to have much greater depth in their squads.

Considering Super Rugby is the flagship tournament or biggest money-spinner for teams and unions, these factors mentioned starts to paint a very bleak picture.

Feeder Systems & the future of the Currie Cup

It is becoming increasingly obvious that domestic competitions like the Currie Cup will in future be used to feed Super Rugby teams and create the necessary depth required.  Add the fact of players careers being shortened considerably because of extended Super Rugby and International competitions, there will even be more pressure on feeder structures to continually produce quality players at a higher frequency.

The current five Super Rugby franchises have not only relied on their immediate feeding structures (union directly associated to the franchise) to supplement their player numbers, but a simple study on current Super Rugby (and even Springbok) players will quite clearly illustrate that they also depend on unions and resources outside of their immediate structures – the so-called minnow unions.

It is not a secret that most, if not all minnow unions in South Africa only exist because of hand-out’s, and that they cannot currently sustain themselves financially – a fact that will be even more exposed with a reduced Premier Currie Cup Division format from which most of these unions are desperately reliant on for money or revenue streams.

It is easy to suggest that the top 5 or 6 unions or franchises in South Africa will in future simply increase the number of contracted players within their ranks, but given the fact that 80% of these top unions budgets are spent on elite players, there is not much room or money to contract up-and-coming players.

You also sit with a situation that unions, even the top ones, are limited in numbers to contract players.  Any rugby team can only have 22 players, which in turn will limit the amount of players you can have as back-up or squad players.

The end result of this is that the top 5 or 6 unions in South Africa will become top heavy, limited to contracting a fixed amount of players which will leave a large number of players out in the wilderness or with no real rugby future in South Africa.  Without money or exposure even more minnow unions will not be able to develop and produce up-and-coming stars and eventually the feeding structures, outside that of the top 5 unions will collapse completely.

We are already seeing a significant drop in school and club rugby players in South Africa, and if clubs and schools in outlying or rural areas lose the structures and systems in place and managed by these minnow unions, the reduction of player numbers in South Africa will drop drastically in a very short space and time.


South African rugby might be riding the wave of financial success with recent deals it entered into, but I believe there was little to no regard shown for the future sustainability of the game through these commitments.  You cannot strengthen the end-product (Super Rugby and Springbok rugby) by cutting off the resources that feed them – you strengthen those resources first to ensure the end product will continue to remain strong.

I cannot see any benefit in the recent changes we have witnessed in South African rugby other than a short-term, and short-sighted, financial benefit.  For this reason, and unless something changes dramatically, South African rugby faces a massive implosion in the not too distant future.


  • The new format for the CC is fine, the Strength v Strength scenario is better than the existing one.

    The SR comp is WAYYYYY to long though.

  • Comment 1, posted at 16.08.11 12:34:45 by KSA Shark © Reply
    KSA Shark ©
  • Saw the Bok team was announced, Morne-wish-he-was-Naas Steyn to start at 10 and Johnson in the place of Deysel on the bench, Alberts and Lambie start.

  • Comment 2, posted at 16.08.11 12:34:56 by KingRiaan Reply
  • Even our article on the issue hardly attracted many comments.

  • Comment 3, posted at 16.08.11 12:36:41 by KSA Shark © Reply
    KSA Shark ©
  • Well written article.

    The day I take over SARU (it’s gonna happen, just you watch) I’ll do the following:

    – Absorb the Currie Cup into the Super Rugby Competition, with a seperate log, since only SA derbies count towards the currie cup.
    – Winner is the winner of the pool.
    – Vodacom Cup takes over for the current Currie Cup, with all the teams playing each other once. Everybody plays, from the Kings to the Pumas to the sharks.
    – Semis and finals for that.

    Screw it. I’ll go tell SANZAR to go and stuff themselves, then develop my world league that will stretch over two seasons.

  • Comment 4, posted at 16.08.11 12:37:41 by PTAShark Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • I saw in Friday Morning’s “Die Burger” that the President of the Bulls Mr. Louis Nel said that at the time nobody foresaw the impact that the expanded SR comp or the 4 Nations would have on the Currie Cup.

    WTF?!?!? Final proof that they live with their heads up their arses. Either that or a blatant LIE!!!

    How the hell did they not foresee this? EVERY single blog predicted it.

  • Comment 5, posted at 16.08.11 12:37:57 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • Mmmmnnnnnn…….Morne is always thinking ahead!

  • Comment 6, posted at 16.08.11 12:41:52 by Pokkel Reply
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  • @KingRiaan (Comment 2) : Let’s wait for the article to appear on here, rather than mess up the primary subject of this thread.

  • Comment 7, posted at 16.08.11 12:42:29 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • How did the old CC work? I mean years ago, I constantly get blasted by comments like “you know, natal used to only play in the Sport Pienaar Cup…”. Was that not similar to this “new” system? Perhaps someone could enlighten this youngster on the happenings of yesteryear.

  • Comment 8, posted at 16.08.11 12:44:19 by Crock Reply

  • @PTAShark, yep, I have contemplated similar happenings. It could work you know.

  • Comment 9, posted at 16.08.11 12:46:11 by Crock Reply

  • Is there any chance that in future we’ll start seeing SA rugby fans favour a more club-based competition as opposed to a union-based competition?

  • Comment 10, posted at 16.08.11 13:05:43 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • also . its seems some of the smaller unions , including EP , voted for the 6 team competition . so .. i have a slight suspicion they were promised a spot in the Currie cup next season where

  • Comment 11, posted at 16.08.11 13:07:44 by Zibbie Reply
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  • @Zibbie (Comment 11) : Hope not. It would be a crying shame to demote the Griquas to the first division. They’ve made a not so insignificant contribution to SA rugby in the past few years.

  • Comment 12, posted at 16.08.11 13:16:30 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 12) :

    i agree ! Griquas is one of the teams i enjoy . also the Pumas . lets hope SARU didnt sell there souls to the Kings ..

    oh wait they dont have souls anymore .. already sold to SANZAR … 🙄

  • Comment 13, posted at 16.08.11 13:27:21 by Zibbie Reply
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  • The only reason for the Currie Cup being reduced to 6 teams is because there is no time for an 8 team currie cup to be played out after the Super rugby/Incoming Internationals/4 Nations etc.
    But if the Boks are not going to be involved then whats the difference between the Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup?
    And wat happens if results dont go the way of the Bulls and they end up in the bottom 2 this year? Its unlikely but im just saying…

  • Comment 14, posted at 16.08.11 13:38:30 by SheldonK Reply

  • Well there`s no world cup next year. If they reduce the currie cup format we`re gonna see a lot less rugby. 🙁

  • Comment 15, posted at 16.08.11 13:39:26 by Original Pierre Reply
    Original Pierre
  • @SheldonK (Comment 14) :

    remember while we are playing super rugby the vodacom cup is going . so its a huge difference .

  • Comment 16, posted at 16.08.11 13:44:54 by Zibbie Reply
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  • @Zibbie (Comment 16) : I still think a combined Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup competition would work better.

  • Comment 17, posted at 16.08.11 13:52:12 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 17) :

    im not so sure that would fix anything . the Vodacom cup has 2 roles . one for developing young players for the teams . and two keeping fringe players fit for Super Rugby .

    you would kill the young players cause now neither the sharks nor the lions get to develop players through the vodacom cup .

    if the teams used the same players i would say sure do it . i think even if you compare the Sharks Currie cup team to the Vodacom Cup team it would mostly look totally different

  • Comment 18, posted at 16.08.11 14:06:39 by Zibbie Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner
  • @Zibbie (Comment 18) : I do get what u mean by developing players etc. I just think that the Currie Cup will then just be an extension of Super rugby with the same players minus the Boks. There needs to be 1 domestic competition.

  • Comment 19, posted at 16.08.11 14:23:47 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 19) :

    that i can agree with . from my point of view i enjoy the Currie cup ! its more exciting and more is at stake . Super rugby was fun when we had fewer teams . ohh we going to play an over seas team yeay !!!!!! even back when it was the super 12 i though the local derbies where boring . we already played these okes in the currie cup so who cares ..

    id rather do something else with Super rugby . do what they do with soccer in Europe . each country has its own currie cup . the top 5 teams from the currie cup qualify for Super rugby no matter who the top 5 is . Like liverpool missing out this year . to bad so sad … try again next year !

  • Comment 20, posted at 16.08.11 14:29:19 by Zibbie Reply
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  • @Zibbie (Comment 20) : I wouldnt go so far as saying top 5, just top 3 so its just the elite!
    The best idea would be for the same teams so remain in super rugby but you only play the new zealand and aussie teams and there are no local derbies. Then the Currie Cup etc would have more appeal

  • Comment 21, posted at 16.08.11 14:43:50 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 21) :

    yes if you have 3 teams you can maybe include and team or 2 from Argentina or so

  • Comment 22, posted at 16.08.11 14:53:48 by Zibbie Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner
  • Morne, what you say makes sense in principle, except that even now our level of talent identification and development is pretty poor.

    Assuming that the reduction of the CC creates a narrower pipeline of talent, are we certain that this is a bad thing? Could it result in us perhaps adopting an Aussie approach to nurturing the identified talent more carefully, rather than losing focus because of all the new talent? Would we have developed Frans Steyn better if the promise of a Pat Lambie or Johan Sadie was not around the corner?

    I also enjoy the CC a lot, but I fear too much (monotonous) rugby more than a reduced CC.

  • Comment 23, posted at 16.08.11 19:29:51 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • Good article. One thing is for sure – things will not be the same in the forseeable future. The one thing the old system ensured was a steady player progression from U21 to Vodacom to CC to Super Rugby to International. The gaps now will start to increase which will make it increasingly difficult for players to make the jump. Short seasons do not allow coaches to develop players and improve them to play at the next level.

    I still want to see how the Kings cope with S15 when they are not even close to getting into the new Currie Cup (top 6).

  • Comment 24, posted at 16.08.11 19:30:43 by insider Reply

  • @Big Fish (Comment 23) :

    But doesn’t monotony start with the same old same old at 3N rugby and Super Rugby? How many times do we want to see the Sharks and WP play in one year – or more importantly, do we want to see them compete at Super Rugby level or Currie Cup level (young talent mixed with experience)?

    Reverting to a 6 team format will spell the doom of the other 8 unions.

    An example…

    In 2010 only about 3 players from Griquas represented the Cheetahs Super rugby franchise – in 2011, about 13.

    If Griquas are to be excluded from the Currie Cup premier which they have been part of for years now – will we ever see the same representation from this union who will lose their sponsors and important revenue streams from competing in the CC proper?

    I can highlight players from the Pumas, Leopards, Boland, Valke etc in recent years to which this applies too.

    The problem I foresee is that the Johan Sadie’s, or Pat Lambie’s, (Bjorn Basson, Sarel Pretorius etc etc etc) will either give up on the game or go elsewhere (read Europe) to make a career out of the game because if you do not get snapped up at Craven Week as a player, you chances are zero and even less to make it in this country.

    Consider the channels that feeds our current top unions or franchises, and then take them out of the equation – its not a pretty picture from where I sit.

  • Comment 25, posted at 16.08.11 19:46:12 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 25) :
    I’m already tired of Super Rugby. Its boring. I enjoy the new faces that appear in the CC.

    But I am not sure that a smaller pipeline is going to be detrimental to our game. For every Bjorn Basson that Griquas throw up, how many Akona Ndungane’s get discarded too early?

    I am ok with a smaller CC – but then let’s get more money and exposure to the VC and Varsity Cup. Surely you are more likely to find rough diamonds amongst the juniors rather than amongst the smaller unions?

  • Comment 26, posted at 16.08.11 19:56:23 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 26) :

    The ‘ranks’ in which juniors gets exposed to, or get an opportunity in concerns me.

    Look you will always miss a player here and there, but rather have the numbers work for you, than against you.

  • Comment 27, posted at 16.08.11 21:18:21 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 27) :
    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’m not disagreeing with you – you raise real food for thought.

    I just feel that your “argument” (for want of a better word) is based on the assumption that exposing more players to senior rugby will increase the size of the talent pool, whereas my feel is that finding talent is not the problem – developing talent is.

    I recognise that your argument is broader than that – you are also talking of an effect of reducing number of overall players in SA due to less provincial CC opportunities, but again that presumes that provincial representation is a very significant factor in the reason Johan Average plays the game. Maybe you are right – I don’t know.

  • Comment 28, posted at 16.08.11 21:36:43 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 28) :

    Development of players or actual coaching is a major concern in SA rugby, we have highlighted this many times.

    My feeling is the only reason we survived beyond that obvious flaw was our strength in numbers – reduce this – and we are screwed!

    Players are not so much ‘developed’ in these smaller unions, but they do get vital exposure where the top unions’ talent scouts can identify and contract them.

    Now if we cut down on the exposure levels outside the Craven Week and Varsity Cup (which are very limited as is) then how many potential great players will we be missing out on?

    I don’t think we can compare ourselves to an Australia who has limited union resources, the political climate is just too different to do that which I don’t want to expand on here for obvious reasons.

    To put it as simple as I can, imagine given the potential route our rugby is about to take and a union like Griquas disappears… There are schools and clubs in those surrounding areas which will disappear with it. In the end, you will be denying a kid to take up the game with any real hope of making something out of it.

    It goes against our aim for development and dare I say, transforming the game of rugby.

    Empowering the already powerful structures or unions in SA Rugby will do nothing for the game itself in SA, giving some player in some club or school in Kuruman or Tzaneen the opportunity to become a Springbok however – does.

  • Comment 29, posted at 16.08.11 21:50:38 by Morné Reply
  • @Big Fish (Comment 28) :

    And my manners suck, it is good to engage in a chat with you again mate!

  • Comment 30, posted at 16.08.11 21:58:50 by Morné Reply
  • @Morné (Comment 29) :
    Is there a higher proportion of black players in a small as opposed to a big union? I haven’t noticed that.

    In any event, this is happening, and maybe a happy side-effect will be a greater focus on current talent, due to the powers that be sharing your concerns. After all, all of human endeavour is emergent, and it is an ill wind that blows no many some good.

  • Comment 31, posted at 16.08.11 22:07:40 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 31) :

    Mate, I hope I am wrong, I honestly do.

  • Comment 32, posted at 16.08.11 22:31:21 by Morné Reply

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