The Currie Cup is a feeder competition for South Africa’s Super Rugby and Pro14 contenders, but it’s value to those franchises is diminishing as the domestic championship becomes an arena for all-out attack.
Defence is close to extinction in the Currie Cup and that trend has caused a similar slide in the ability of SA’s Super Rugby teams, and Springboks, to deny opponents points.
Let’s forget, for a second, about the empty stands at Currie Cup matches and focus on the rugby that is on display. Round 5 of the competition dished up the following results: Blue Bulls 39-29 Pumas, Golden Lions 38-65 WP and Griquas 52-24 Free State.
Over the past two seasons, Currie Cup teams have so far conceded an average of 33 points per match (excluding the playoffs). During the Boks’ golden years between 2006 and 2009, the average points conceded by Currie Cup teams was 28 per match.
Now, five points per match doesn’t sound like a lot, but between 2006 and 2009 the Currie Cup consisted of eight teams, with the lowly Falcons, Boland Cavaliers and even Leopards earning stints in the competition. Matches against those teams would sometimes produce an 80-7 result, as was the case when Griquas face Boland in 2009.
During those four years, SA’s Super Rugby teams conceded on average 24 points per match, while the Springboks came in at an average of 25 points per match in the Tri-Nations.
Those were the days when the Wallabies and All Blacks were our only competition, not just in the southern hemisphere, but in the world.
Over the past two years, SA Super Rugby teams have conceded an average of 29 points per match; the Boks are at 28 in the Rugby Championship, which now includes Argentina who had never beaten SA before 2015.
So the leak in our defence, domestically, has been mirrored all the way up to the national team. This is a worrying statistic if you believe in the gospel of “defence wins matches” which gained many followers after last week’s result in Wellington.
Earlier this week, Jake White wrote: “In the eight playoff matches (including the 3rd/4th place playoff) at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, seven were won by the team with less possession.”
This statistic holds true for all but one of the knockout matches during the 2011 World Cup, but only three knockout matches during the 2015 World Cup.
Think the game has shifted since then? Think again – only three of the eight matches in this year’s Rugby Championship have been won by the team with more possession. And in this year’s Super Rugby play-offs, only two of the seven matches were won by teams that claimed more ball.
But in the Currie Cup, there’s a 50-50 split, and last year’s champions, Western Province had 60% possession in the final.
The next generation of talent is being groomed in a competition that plays a game closer to what is seen on schoolboy fields rather than what is played in the Test arena.
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