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Ken Borland



The Currie Cup has fallen from its perch 2

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Ken

 

There can now be no doubt that the Currie Cup has fallen from its perch as one of the most respected domestic rugby competitions in the world to an afterthought, something that seems to have become a burden for SA Rugby rather than a jewel in the crown.

While rugby romantics who grew up on the grand old tales of the Currie Cup and its great provincial rivalry will just have to get used to the fact that most of SA Rugby’s resources will now be poured into SuperRugby and the Springboks (and even the Pro14 seems to have jumped the queue in importance), there is one important factor that needs to be dealt with – SuperRugby franchises still get their players from the Currie Cup.

The Currie Cup is still a vital stepping stone from which so many players graduate into the next year’s SuperRugby competition, and most of the franchises will tell you they have half-an-eye on the Sanzaar tournament throughout all their Currie Cup activities.

And, as Jake White has pointed out, what happens now in the Currie Cup affects the Springboks in five years’ time.

“If you look at the kind of players who are playing Currie Cup now, with the Springboks and internationals away, we are saying that the Currie Cup is not what it used to be, and my fear is that we’re accepting mediocrity. When I was a youngster, the likes of Hennie Bekker, Schalk Burger Snr and Henning van Aswegen were playing for Western Province. How many 19-year-olds played then? None. And how many of the youngsters playing today would make that Western Province team? None.

“That’s a worrying sign because whatever is happening now, there’s no doubt it will impact where we will be in the next five years. There are a lot of factors – overseas players, spreading the talent base – but I don’t think people want to admit that the consequences are going to come back to bite us,” White told All Out Rugby.

The downgrading of the Currie Cup is a serious concern that is reflected in attendance figures, but how are people meant to get excited about a tournament that started while SuperRugby’s exciting climax was hogging all the attention? Watching second and third-string teams play is really only going to excite the family members and close friends of the players involved.

One of the biggest questions the current Currie Cup breeding ground is not answering is “Where are we going to get all our future props from?”

It is a disgrace that the Currie Cup is practically the only premier rugby tournament in the world that is still using 22-man squads, which forces most teams to choose only one prop replacement. When it happened last year it was almost forgiven because of the chaotic preparation for the 2016 Currie Cup [http://kenborland.com/2016/08/6043/], but making the same mistake again has drawn fully justified criticism from Sharks coach Robert du Preez and Nollis Marais of the Blue Bulls.

The reason for not moving with the times and having 23 players – which allows a full front row of replacements – is apparently financial. But given that it costs probably R6000 per player per match (and only the visiting team needs a flight and hotel), so with three games per weekend, that’s an extra R18 000 for the 23rd player.

With the Currie Cup being played over 14 weeks, that’s an extra cost of about R252 000. Surely SA Rugby can get that money from cost-cutting other areas that aren’t so vital for the welfare of the game?

It also avoids the unsavoury sight of uncontested scrums, which are open to abuse whenever a side is under pressure in that set-piece. The scrums are such a vital platform these days for front-foot ball and earning penalties and uncontested scrums are clearly unfair on the dominant team.

Speaking about the welfare of the game, women’s rugby in this country has taken a knock by it not being involved in the ongoing Women’s Rugby World Cup which has reached the semi-final stage in Ireland. The decision was made by SA Rugby to rather invest in the grassroots of women’s rugby, the U16 and U18 championships, to try and broaden the base, rather than sending a team to the World Cup to finish 10th.

While the reasoning is understandable, the enormous strides made by our national women’s cricket team shows that investing heavily at the elite level can also bring rewards.

SA Rugby needs to weigh up the merits of providing opportunities with the harsh economic realities of our time, but at the moment it seems the money men are calling all the shots.

Too much reliance on dazzling skills of Steyn & Le Roux 0

Posted on October 23, 2014 by Ken

 

Close to 60 000 people will be mesmerised at Ellis Park this afternoon when the Springboks take on the All Blacks, with a five-game losing streak against the New Zealanders suggesting that the home side have some catching up to do.

One of the problems the Springboks face is that there seems to be an over-reliance on the skills of Willie le Roux on attack. At times it seems that everybody else is expecting him to spark something and the pressure is causing the poor fullback to continually come into the flyhalf channel and try more and more outlandish things, leading to more and more mistakes. He is also being tightly marked by opposition defences which are well aware of the danger he poses.

It is never a wise strategy to put so much of a burden on one player, rather spread the load around by up-skilling others, and our national cricket team is facing the same issue when it comes to the limited-overs game.

The lack of bowling skill in South African cricket has been exposed by the dismal performances of the Cape Cobras and the Dolphins in the Champions League T20, where both teams’ attacks were put to the sword by opposition batsmen on flat pitches.

While Dale Steyn is still able to lay down the law in the powerplay up front and in the death overs due to his mastery of reverse-swing and the intelligent variations of slower-balls, yorkers and different-speed bouncers he uses, you have to wonder who else the South Africans will be able to rely on come the World Cup and a situation where they might be defending 50 off the last five overs in the final.

Just like the Springboks are relying too heavily on Le Roux, the Proteas are too dependent on Steyn and you can only be dismayed by the poor bowling performances of the two best T20 sides in the country in India.

You need only to look at the averages of the tournament to notice the problem: Sybrand Engelbrecht (what an impressive time he had) was the only Cobras bowler to concede less than eight runs an over, while not one Dolphins bowler managed that economy rate.

Batsmen were able to have a go with impunity, especially in the death overs. The Cobras conceded 60 in the last five overs against Northern Districts, 61 in four versus Hobart Hurricanes, and 63 in six against Barbados.

The Dolphins were belted for 63 in the last six by the Perth Scorchers, 68 in five by Chennai Super Kings, 109 in nine by Lahore and 80 off the last seven by the Kolkata Knight Riders.

A major part of the problem is that bowlers have little incentive to learn skills playing in domestic cricket because the pitches generally allow them to just bang the ball in and allow the surface to give them bounce and movement.

According to Cricket South Africa high performance manager Vincent Barnes, it is an area of great concern they have identified, especially since most ICC tournaments are held in sub-continental conditions these days. Who would bet against the BCCI instructing their new ruling triumvirate partners Australia to make sure World Cup pitches next year are flat and don’t assist pace bowlers?

In order for our bowlers to develop the skills of consistently bowling yorkers or being able to produce an array of deliveries like Ben Loughlin of the Hobart Hurricanes possesses, they need to be practising those skills regularly at home. Our pitches for domestic cricket need to force bowlers to improve their standards.

As Graeme Smith pointed out last week, it’s not just all about bowling yorkers; death bowling is a mindset issue and bowlers need to develop strategies, they need to have a definite plan.

Leaving it all up to Dale Steyn is not a good plan.



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