Knockout the Currie Cup

Craig Ray

The 2018 Currie Cup final attracted 27,000 people at Newlands and the two semi-finals in Durban and Cape Town a mere 28,000 between them.

The Currie Cup, despite two wonderful semi-finals, is on life support and either needs to be euthanised or radically overhauled.

It used to be South Africa’s major rugby prize, but professionalism (meaning Super Rugby and endless Bok Tests) have changed its status in the game, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

However, to keep running the tournament as some sort of league competition in a cluttered rugby calendar where players’ unions are rightly calling for better welfare for its members, is not working.

All provinces, other than the Golden Lions Rugby Union, which has a wealthy private benefactor, are under massive financial strain. The Currie Cup is a major source of the financial burden they’re under because the top teams have to fund massive squads to compete in two league competitions. It’s not sustainable.

So what do we do with the old trophy, donated by shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie in 1891? The intricate gilded-silver water jug was awarded to the first team to beat the touring British rugby side to South Africa.

As it turned out the British remained unbeaten during their 19-match tour so the Currie Cup was awarded to Griqualand West because they ‘only’ lost 3-0. The trophy was given to the South African Rugby Board and in 1892 the Currie Cup was awarded to the champions of an inter-provincial rugby tournament that was in its third season.

It’s a lot of history to throw away by placing the old jug at the SA Rugby Museum, so how do we keep the trophy current and relevant?

It’s time to make the Currie Cup a ruthless knockout competition, a la the FA Cup, even if that means teams may only play two games in the competition.

With Super Rugby set to be one seamless competition from 2020, that would be a good time to debut the knockout Currie Cup. SA’s 14 provinces plus two other sides – drawn from the likes of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia – make up 16 teams.

There are top eight seeds – the four Super Rugby franchises and four PRO 14 teams (which is likely to be the case after 2020).

So, the Sharks, WP, Lions, Blue Bulls, Cheetahs, Griquas, Kings and Pumas draw one of the other eight in a two-legged knockout with the winners advancing to the quarter-finals.

The eight losers play in a Plate competition that runs on a league format while the eight winners repeat the knockout process.

Initially the top eight teams should go through, guaranteeing at least four Currie Cup games for the elite (which is only two fewer than they played this season anyway) and two home games, which is only one fewer than they had this season.

The semis would also be played over two legs and the final is at a pre-determined venue, which could be Soccer City, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium or the Cape Town Stadium. Make the final an occasion like the FA Cup. The top two teams would only play seven games.

That would allow unions to contract fewer senior players as their Super Rugby/PRO 14 and Currie Cup squads would be virtually the same. Even teams involved in PRO 14 could fit a few knockout games in around their other commitments.

Also, by making the matches knockout, adds an edge. Think how dramatic the two 2018 semis were. They were dramatic because they were all-or-nothing contests. The knockout element would bring that to each match, including for the minnows, who could spring some surprises.

In years to come, if possible, Varsity Cup teams such as Maties could be added to the early knockout stages of the tournament adding another layer of interest.

It’s a radical idea, but one thing is certain – if we continue as we are, the Currie Cup withers and dies a slow and unedifying death.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Andrew

    I love it! Great idea Craig!
    Also allows our top players to experience hardcore knock out rugby.

  • Barry

    I must say I enjoyed the current season hugely, with a shortened format. I was at Newlands last Saturday and I can tell you that the vibe was immense, so I am not sure the Currie Cup is going anywhere just yet, other than to Durban of course!

    Attendance figures at stadiums across the globe are well down, so I don’t think you can use this as a measure for the success or failure of the Currie Cup. There was huge press excitement and public interest for the play offs and for the final and I am sure viewership stats would support this.

    A point raised earlier in the week was the poor state of repairs that Newlands is in. Entry and exits through narrow grubby corridors. There is only one big screen, so half the stadium can’t see the replays or TMO reviews, nor hear what is said. The seat prices were not so bad, but the food and drink is two to three times the norm! There are also parking issues and lengthy walks to and from.

    If we are to get the crowds back, the stadium operators need to make it a worthy experience. At the moment your probably getting better value watching from your living room, regardless of the format!

    • SweetAz

      The last time I went to Newlands was as a school laaitie in 1969 or 70. Even then it was crap,—I can imagine what it must be like almost 50 years later.

    • John Comyn

      Newlands should be declared derelict. It certainkly does not meet RFU standards. The mind boggles as to why they have taken so long long to make a decision to move to the CT stadium which is fantastic. I live about a 15 minute walk from Newlands so I will miss that but otherwise I find the place depressing.

      • Greg Shark

        I’d really like to know what those standards are that you refer to. Kings Park has been said to be not up to international standards but speaking to the designers of the RWC upgrades done years ago they’re of the opinion the stadium is bang on target with world standards. Rugby and football stadiums cater for different types of hooligans – the soccer hooligan is violent and stadiums require big, wide vomitorias to spew people out quickly and safely. Seating is also ‘far’ from the arena to reduce the impact of thrown objects (not to mention the 3m high fencing!). Derelict means the stadium is structurally unsound and falling to pieces, is that the case at newlands? Yeah CT stadiums does look a lot nicer and have advantages. Our Moses Mahabida is absolutely junk, iconic but junk, not suitable for rugby with a SW wind that howls through the south side, the arena some 30m from the seating, super slippery pavilion walkways and all the perforated side panels to the fenestration around the stadium falling out

        • John Comyn

          It is the oldest test venue in the world just for starters. WP Rugby are constantly under pressure from local government to meet safety standards. It takes ages to get in and out of the stadium. If there were ever a catastrophic event in the stadium the consequences will be horrific. (They can clear the CT stadium from capacity to empty in 12 minutes.) If one wants to get a beer it can take anything up to 20 minutes (1 small bar on either side of the stadium). Food stalls are crap and it can also take a long time to get anything. The female toilets are inadequate, and according to my wife, disgusting. The big screen is laughable. Anywhere on the sides of the stadium in the lower tiers it’s virtually impossible to see anything unless it is in front of you. I could go on. I use to love Newlands before I knew better.

        • Wesley

          I don’t know Kings Park well so can’t comment there, but Newlands is certainly not suitable. Not only structurally as reinforced concrete needs constant, very expensive maintenance after a certain period, but fire safety is not suitable. International building codes and standards has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and this dinosaur being built and altered over and over since the 50s, nothing to do with the “vomitoria specially designed” for soccer hooligans only. Yes the new stadiums have their failings sure, but world class compared to Newlands. A building, unless used sparingly like small to medium scale offices, residential buildings and the like, can only survive 50 years max. 50 000 people banging through the corridors onto the grandstand can also lessen the lifespan. The nostalgia should quiet down a bit.

    • Wesley

      When is World Rugby in general going to realize and catch up regarding money spinners in attracting crowd and viewership, and thus sponsors? I understand rugby isn’t the biggest sport in MANY richer first-world (mostly European) countries, only the Home countries and France have fans closest comparable to football,where most money is generated by big clubs there. But it seems there is constant struggles without a coherent continuous plan people can become invested in. We see this everywhere, local competitions are dying or becoming less relevant in all southern hemisphere unions as well as to some degree in Europe, with almost all clubs making losses.

      The Currie Cup was huge when it was a stable presence in the SA rugby calendar. If it doesn’t find a proper place and run unaltered for at least 5 seasons, consider it to be shelved in the museum. I kind of like what Craig here is proposing, although a would keep it at provincial level (clubs to have their own leagues), and leave the northern neighbors out. Their rugby is not properly funded nor governed and we don’t need another drag weight on an already sinking ship.

  • Don

    Personally don’t think the Currie Cup is the problem. Can’t stand the Super rugby competition with the to and fro travelling, constant format changing and more so now that it gets split in half with internationals thrown in the middle. The competition loses all its momentum. All Super rugby stadiums are empty which indicates the problem is overall. I’d sooner drop the Super rugby than the Currie Cup!

    • Graham

      Agreed. I would focus on the domestic competitions of SA, OZ and NZ and rather make super rugby a knockout competition. I like the current currie cup format and it should stay.
      Each country has 8 teams battling it out domestically, playing home and away. The top 4 teams from each comp (12 teams) and 4 from Arg, Japan, Pacific and America (total 16 teams) goes into super rugby, aka knockout phase, which is played in one of the competing countries as a host nation, rotating every year meaning no travel and only 4 weeks of competition at the most. Thats 14 domestic games, at most 4 super games and once a global calendar is introduced you can have the top 4 teams from super rugby play the top 4 northern teams. I think that would really peak viewers interest and mean less rugby, less travel, more quality and most games would be vital. Would also expand Sanzaar into america like they wanted.

  • Maxwell

    Knockout competitions would be extremely helpful for our players’ BMT. They will become better decision makers and more skillful. Such competitions will test their character as player and will make them worldclass. All the ingredients to draw crowds back to the staduims.

  • John Comyn

    Just saw the side for Saturday. What’s really awesome is there is not a single Shark in the starting 15 with only Thomas on the bench. Which is ironic because he is the last player that should have been selected.

  • Barry

    Yes, puzzling isn’t it. Though he probably thought it right to give the Currie Cup Champions a bit of a break and let the B side have a run! By the bye, Nkosi plays for the Sharks!

    • John Comyn

      Damn! That makes two!

  • Donovan

    I think we need to learn from the likes of Nee Zealand and such as their domestic leagues are well supported and they have the same if not more commitments as do the South Africans, and yet their are greater numbers at the games. South Africa as a nation only supports when their team is doing well. Support should be given at all times. I feel that SA does not support rugby but rather they support teams that win. A shorter Curry Cup will be the beginning of the end for domestic rugby.

  • Nick

    John comyn.
    So curry cup success demands international selection? Really?

    Tell us what sharks should have been selected.

    • Barry

      Nick rather tell us what other National competitions there are to gauge player performance?

    • John Comyn

      I was baiting Greg Shark! Probably Jean-Luc based on the fact that before he was injured he would have been in the squad. Since being back he has been pretty good. There is also a case to be made for his twin brother but that would be at a stretch.

  • Nick

    Craig ray. Good article. They should give you the job to run the thing.
    Logical .

  • Johan

    The Super rugby format should change . Its boring and not worth watching . Make it shorter . Then the CC can rather be played over 2 rounds . In SS most games involving 2 SA teams draws the biggest crowds anyway .

  • Logan

    Dumb idea, but agree that the Currie cup is boring and no longer sustainable under the current climate. Especially when you have your franchises players heading off to Japan or Euro during the the Currie cup

    I agree that our players need learn how to play knockout rugby.

    SA need to put pressure on simplifying super rugby and the championship. Use the broadcast money for central contracts and put better franchise requirements in place. All players in SA should be on central contracts no matter the compitition

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