Sport romantics the world over live for traditions. From small anecdotes of a cricketer duct taping his bat to the ceilings of the change room until it was needed, to administrators of massive teams choosing to play in a smaller, older stadium as opposed to a newly built high capacity world class facility just a stone’s throw away. So many things make absolutely no sense in sport and yet an argument can still be won by simply uttering the phase “because it’s tradition, that’s why!” Maybe it is because very little else in our modern lives still cares for tradition.
I often see the commercial side of sport and therefore try not to have my vision clouded by tradition too regularly. Every so often, however, for the sake of the childhood sports fan we all once were, one needs to give in to the “because it’s tradition, that’s why!” argument.
When it comes to tradition, few things can rival the Currie Cup. Let’s never forget that the Currie Cup is the oldest domestic rugby competition in the world. If for no other reason at all that should be enough motivation to ensure that it always remains the heartbeat of SA rugby. It is steeped in tradition. “Currie Cup” spelt backwards spells “tradition”. Most rugby players in South Africa rank a Currie Cup title below only the World Cup. Meaning, if they had to choose they would rather win the Currie Cup than Super Rugby.
Why then is it that by the time the Currie Cup rolls around we have already watched every derby game twice (and sometimes more, depending on what happens in the Super Rugby playoff games) thus reducing the appeal of a Blue Bulls/ Western Province game to the point where the stadium is almost empty?
Call me a dogged traditionalist, but Currie Cup deserves the spotlight. The Currie Cup deserves the top tier players to be involved (and not just for the last two games). The Currie Cup deserves fresh players, not players coming off an 18 week competition. The Currie Cup deserves to be more than a 6 team competition.
The difficulty in finding a “home” for the Currie Cup within a season dominated by Super Rugby is that some Super Rugby teams, technically, incorporate more than one union. The only place where this is actually visible is in Bloemfontein where the Griquas players are actively used by the Cheetahs during Super Rugby, but the system with other franchises too.
Although it’s a bit like trying to fit a square into a triangle, I love to see the future of the Currie Cup (and for that matter the ITM Cup) forming part of the SANZAR planning process when the new Super Rugby format is decided. It will take some creative thinking and restructuring, but it isn’t beyond comprehension. Perhaps a similar system to how the domestic football leagues fit into the UEFA Champions League could be investigated, where a larger domestic league is played and the top 4 teams of that league advance to second competition against other countries’ top domestic teams. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy. For starters, Australia doesn’t have a domestic competition. Secondly, as much as we all love tradition, the system needs to be commercially viable in order to work.
It has recently been confirmed that the Currie Cup will at least expand to 8 teams next year, which is certainly a step in the right direction. It will good for the development of the Southern Kings to play Currie Cup premier division rugby, even if it means a few hidings along the way. Perhaps eventually they will be able to justify their inclusion in Super Rugby.
I don’t have all the answers but as soon as I do you (and SARU) will be first to know. All I do know is that we’re not doing the Currie Cup the justice that it deserves in its current format. Not for once single second should the Currie Cup be used as a talent scouting/ Q-school for Super Rugby franchises. It deserves to be a standalone competition of equal or superior rank to any other rugby competition being played in South Africa.