SA Super when Currie Cup strong

Stephen Nell

As someone whose childhood was partly spent in the tumultuous 1980’s, I built up a deep affinity for the Currie Cup. That history between Western Province and the erstwhile Northern Transvaal, for example, is what gives matches between the Bulls and Stormers the meaning and intensity they have today.

I had considerably less time for Naas Botha than Ashwin Willemse does, despised the Transvaal president Louis Luyt whenever he reached for his cheque book to get the player he wanted, and idolised Carel du Plessis.

Apartheid rugby, I hear you say. Bollocks. The strength-versus-strength Currie Cup is what underpinned our rugby but it now appears to be on its last legs. Is it an inevitable outcome of professional rugby? Or a damning verdict of South African rugby’s administrative capacity?

Fact is, at the beginning of every year there is a competition called the Varsity Cup in which the rugby is of a significantly lesser quality. Yet a Maties home match can draw a crowd upwards of 10,000. It’s a figure that provincial unions can only dream of for some of the matches they will be hosting in this year’s Currie Cup. Players want to represent their universities first and foremost.

So how did it come to this? At one stage SuperSport even had to pay a neat price to be able to broadcast these games. Now they probably hold the aces.

I am a fan of the Varsity Cup, but also believe it’s the product of masterful marketing bordering on propaganda. A narrative was created whereby they claimed credit for producing one top player after the other. Corporate partners got some great exposure, there was innovation through experimental rules, and the product was linked to good causes.

Somewhere in among all that the truth was often blurred. Many top players played in the Varsity Cup, but aren’t the product of the competition. They happened to play in it. For example, Eben Etzebeth’s performance in the Currie Cup final of 2012 was far more the making of him than what he achieved in a UCT shirt.

But don’t hold your breath for big crowds on the first weekend of Currie Cup action: Free State Cheetahs v Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein, and Pumas v Griquas in Nelspruit.

Of course, there was a time in the professional era where Currie Cup semi-finals meant something. As things stand the competition is one that is sensibly geared towards developing players for Super Rugby, but without any market appeal. It exists because it has to, rather than anyone wanting it to.

Looking back, South Africa erred at various points in agreeing to Super Rugby expansion. If we had kept it to 12 teams – as was the case in Super Rugby’s heyday – there would be space for the Currie Cup to reclaim its appeal with the participation of world-class players come the play-off stages.

Rather than agreeing to the next hare-brained idea for a Super Rugby format, South Africa should start flexing its muscles at Sanzaar’s negotiating table.

In truth, Super Rugby has laid ruin to our domestic game, to the point where for a decent match-day experience the Varsity Cup is as good as it gets.

Oh, and by the way, the Currie Cup kicks off on August 17. In case you were interested…

- Stephen Nell

Let's chat

  • Roy Van Zyl

    Too true. The Super Rugby has certainly improved the game for the New Zealanders and their teams
    seem to benefit the most. Our Currie Cup meantime has gone backwards and game attendances are
    testimony to that. We need to uplift the quality of Rugby in South Africa which will naturally progress
    to the national team.

  • Sharky

    To be honest, I’ve kinda lost interest in rugby in general.

    I remember when I was a kid I would love day trips down to Durbs to watch the Banana Boys and then the Sharks do battle. In the late 1980’s it was more about the spectacle and the after-match festivities than actually winning a match (Natal famously had to wait 100 years before winning their first Currie Cup final). And I remember watching that fantastic match on TV back in 1990 – the “Jamieson Raid”. My uncle still proudly cultivates the Loftus grass he plucked from the spot where Tony Watson scored that winning try. I also remember seeing pictures of the banner that was hoisted over the N3 at Van Reenen’s Pass to welcome the “Vaalies” to “Currie Cup Champion Territory”.And I can still name every member of that team off by heat.

    I remember waking up in the early hours of Saturday mornings to watch the Sharks play Super 12 matches in New Zealand; and bunking classes to watch 10/11am Friday games. Each season brought with it new excitement – I would pore over the fixture list and work out who I thought would win each match and who would make the final. Those were the days!

    Sadly that excitement has now gone. I did not even know when the Currie Cup was going to start let alone what the fixture list looks like. And if I ever watch a full Currie Cup or Super Rugby match it’s usually while I’m busy doing something else. YouTube match highlights on Sunday mornings with my son is about as involved as I get.

    It’s sad that somewhere between the overly congested schedule, poor results, poor administration and political interference I’ve lost my passion for watching SA rugby. I still watch most Bok games, but more with a sense of trepidation than excitement. And long gone are the days that I would plan my Saturdays around the rugby fixture list.

    South African rugby has lost it’s magic, and I can’t help but agree that that is somehow linked to the Currie Cup being a dull shadow of what it once was.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Sharkey I do agree with some of your sentiments but at the back of your mind is it not also your under performing Sharks these past few years that has fueled your ‘depression’ ? What are you guys doing about getting a top class coach ?. Surely Du Preez must now be in line to ‘walk the plank’ into shark infested waters ? Cheers.

      • Sharky

        Herman, there may be something in what you are saying. But Natal didn’t win anything until 1990 and I have very fond memories of attending matches at Kings Park before that. The Sharks also didn’t win anything between 1997 and 2007 (though they probably should have won the Super Rugby title in 2007!). And I was still passionate about rugby then. I still watched every match over that period and still got up early to watch tour games. I was a student over that time and I put some of the little money I had into an M-NET subscription solely so that I could watch rugby. It was a priority and braais and nights out were planned around it. Hell, I even had one eye on the Bulls v Sharks game on my wedding day!

        Now I’ll watch Super Rugby or Currie Cup games if I have nothing else to do. In fact I’d rather watch my old high school play rugby (any they’re currently having the worse season they’ve ever had!).

        So no, I think it’s more than the Sharks’ poor form and the lack of decent coaching in SA (though that may play a role). It’s something more fundamental. The spark has gone.

    • Piet

      Absolutely spot on in every respect. The Super Rugby competition has become an abomination. I didn’t watch a single game this season.

    • Matador

      You are saying what most of us are experencing over past 10 years or more.
      Apathy for what was, in our eyes, an important part of our lives.
      The administators are to blame. Their shortsightedness and wanting to turn a few a few quick dollars has lead us to this point. WP rugby is a case in point for what happens when the politically appointed custodians do not have a clue as to what they are doing. Financial ruin is always the result.
      It is a sad state of affairs but finally, it seems, the public eyes are openening to this farce, managed by Saru.
      Poor crowd attendances across the board for professional games.
      It is an indictment of the state of affairs of our nation as a whole and it will not change anytime soon.
      Our glory days i think, are behind us, once and for all.

    • boyo

      This is currie cup country!!

      I must add the level of refereeing and absolutely convoluted rule book have also added to the product becoming less enjoyable and more infuriating.

      I was at that game at Loftus, admittedly as a mere toddler but I am proud to say I have been at every single Natal currie cup victory. I attended last years final but I expect it will be my last as the game has become a farse with a referee being the ultimate decider. I say it often but not many sports allow for a referee to so influence an outcome without even making a mistake.

    • Greg Shark

      Currie Cup Country!

      • Sharky

        LOL!!! I knew I was going to get that wrong. I was 10 at the time and was drawing on the darkest recesses of my childhood memory.

        Back in the day my dad used to travel up to Joburg and Bloem occasionally for business and he stopped on the side of the freeway and snapped a photo of that banner. Don’t know what became of that pic.

  • Greg Shark

    In my opinion Super Rugby has been the demise of Currie Cup and I wonder if there was some Australasian motivation to achieve that? SR should not be the place for provincial derbies, that should be the sole right of Currie Cup. SR10 and 12 were by far the best formats. The SR extension has decimated our domestic game and channeled big pay days to many average players.
    SARU had better put their collective minds (what?) together and stop their SANZAAR partners from bull dozing them into formats that are not good for our game. Alas, I believe personal earnings and social positions are more important to them than our game.

    • Sharky

      I personally think that the Super 10 format was the best, with the top Currie Cup teams from the previous year qualifying for Super Rugby. That kept the Currie Cup front and center and had Super Rugby as an add-on for the top teams. But alas, Rupert Murdoch and his billions got involved!

  • Nick

    In the long run we need to ensure the integrity of a national league first and foremost. France has one. England has one. We are the 3 nations with by far the most rugby players.

  • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

    The Currie Cup is one of the oldest provincial rugby leagues in the world if i am not mistaken? at some point considered the best provincial rugby competition in the world back when Bankfin was still involved. It was mentioned some time ago that we should adopt the same draft system that the NFL and NBA are using and draft School players straight into Currie Cup level and leave Varstiy Cup as it is. I know scouts from unions go to craven weeks and school derbies like Paarl Boy’s vs Paarl Gim etc to recruit, maybe having a system where on a night the top School players from 1 to 100 gets drafted into outr Provincial sides. Surely that could create some kind of excitement around the competition?

    Any thoughts?

  • Herman Schroder?

    I agree with Stephen Nel the watered down CC is an abomination and an insult to those classic matches that produced a worthy winner in a strength against strength competition in years gone by. In fact considering that the Lions have won 20 of their last 21 matches in SR it would not be stretching it too far to call them CC champions for the past 3 years if strength against strength winner is the primary objective.

    A system that might be an option is combining the two comps, SR and Currie Cup. The first phase of SR should be when each country plays it’s own domestic competition separately, home and away. When that preliminary comp which is still billed as SR ( qualifiers ) is completed the winner in our case becomes CC champion. The top two teams then go through to play against the other country’s top two teams home and away. The top 4 in an overall log then go through to the semi’s ( no quarters ) and a final to decide the winner.

    That system would give meaning to the CC in our case and a far less taxing comp overall. Only my 2 cents worth. Cheers.

    • Piet Pompies

      How do I like your comment – where is the like button? 100 likes up for you! This have been my opinion for a really long time! Wish some of the decision makers could see this and more importantly agree with this!

      • Herman Schroder?

        Thanks Piet. I’m not sure if you remember but a few seasons ago these ‘decision makers’ came up with 4 points being awarded for a bye, lol. So one can’t expect too much enlightenment from the current crop of ‘thinkers’. Cheers.

  • Gerrit

    If it’s a CC single round why not have all 14 Unions in it… at least it will make the Semi Finalist worthy…

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