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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.

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup 3

Posted on August 08, 2016 by Ken

 

It takes a special organisation to destroy a top-class brand like the Currie Cup – a 124-year-old South African sporting institution and one of the most famous competitions in the game – but the South African Rugby Union, the custodians of this treasured tournament, are pulling off this dubious feat with scarcely-believable efficiency.

A crowded schedule and the growth of SuperRugby, both in terms of size and importance, has put the squeeze on the Currie Cup in recent years, but in 2016 Saru have taken the self-sabotage to a whole new level.

The build-up to this year’s tournament can only be described as a fiasco – from a largely pointless qualification competition to the scheduling of the fixtures, the Eastern Province Kings saga and the decision that match-day squads will only feature 22 players, it has been a litany of mistakes by Saru.

Griquas, Boland and the Pumas all finished in the top five of the qualifying tournament and their involvement in the Premier Division is a fine idea. But the Kings are likely to be an absolute shambles given that they have been liquidated and almost all their SuperRugby players have left. Their second-string players could only win two of their 14 qualifying games.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, itself about to undergo a change of leadership, has temporarily bailed out Eastern Province with a R20 million support package, but that’s not going to fix their tight five or their defence.

Everyone knows that the Kings are going to be a disaster but a Saru vote, thanks to their archaic governance system, has kept them in the Premier Division. Instead of a path being chosen for the benefit of South African rugby as a whole, the decision was made by the general council of the 14 union presidents and it needed to be unanimous for the dysfunctional, bankrupt team to be booted.

Of course one could guarantee self-interest would win the day and the Griffons vetoed the scheme. Apparently they agreed the Kings shouldn’t be in the top division but they didn’t want the Leopards to replace them. Talk about childish petulance and abysmal leadership, and we have seen the same outcome in many other issues Saru have voted for over recent years.

No wonder so many sponsors run a mile when Saru come knocking on their doors, because who wants their brand to be associated with a bunch of dinosaurs who are busy presiding over the extinction of the once mighty and proud Currie Cup?

The scheduling has also been poor with the opening round of the main event taking place in the same radius as the SuperRugby final and one of the biggest stories in the local game for many years, the possibility of the Lions winning that trophy. So nobody really cares that the Currie Cup is starting.

The final is scheduled for October 15 and the Springboks only play their first end-of-year-tour match on November 5, so the Currie Cup could easily have started a week later, out of the shadow of SuperRugby.

The vexed question of the Kings’ participation has also led to a dizzying array of fixture changes, but even before that the Lions were scheduled to play this weekend, even though the attentions of the defending champions were clearly going to be on SuperRugby.

Saru are certainly not putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to the Currie Cup and the lack of resources for the competition is also shown by the decision that teams can only have 22-man match-day squads, instead of the 23 with a full front row on the bench that is used now in all other high-level rugby.

This will not only affect the quality of the competition – expect more uncontested scrums – but obviously affects the preparation of the Springboks because they will have to use 23 players at international level.

No wonder the Springboks have struggled in recent years when their support structures and their pipelines are like an IOU from Cheeky Watson blowing in a Port Elizabeth gale.

Sharks responded reasonably well to player losses – Macleod-Henderson 0

Posted on November 24, 2014 by Ken

Through Springbok call-ups, injuries or emigration, the Cell C Sharks lost 16 players between the SuperRugby and Currie Cup competitions and coach Brad Macleod-Henderson believes the players who stepped in did a reasonably good job considering what inexperienced respondents they were.

Frans Steyn, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel and Keegan Daniel all moved to Japan; Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee and JP Pietersen were all called up to the Springboks; Anton Bresler (Edinburgh), Charl McLeod (Grenoble) and Wiehahn Herbst (Ulster) also decided to play overseas; and Pieter-Steph du Toit and Willem Alberts were unable to play due to injury.

Nevertheless, the Sharks managed to finish third on the Currie Cup log before going down 50-20 to a rampant Lions team at Ellis Park last weekend. The likes of centre Andre Esterhuizen, scrumhalf Cameron Wright, prop Thomas du Toit, lock JC Astle and loose forwards Ettienne Oosthuizen, Khaya Majola and Tera Mtembu all made big strides during the campaign and experienced players like SP Marais, S’Bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo, Kyle Cooper, Lourens Adriaanse, Stephan Lewies, Marco Wentzel and Jacques Botes stepped up to the plate as well.

“I’m reasonably happy with the season, we had quite a few young guys in the team and we had to bounce back from a rough start. We were playing some nice rugby towards the end, winning in Pretoria and Cape Town is always going to take some doing, but unfortunately we didn’t play anywhere near to our potential in the semi-final. But credit to the Lions, who dominated us in all phases and, although there was a glimmer of hope in the second half, they took it to a different level at the end of the match,” Macleod-Henderson told The Citizen yesterday.

With director of rugby Jake White leaving the Sharks four weeks ago and no replacement yet named, Macleod-Henderson was unable to answer questions about his future but he did feel several players had shown in the Currie Cup that they can perform at SuperRugby level.

“The Currie Cup was a great opportunity for guys to show their quality – players like Tera Mtembu, who was outstanding as captain and eighthman, an older head like Marco Wentzel showed he still has the attitude and heart to succeed at that level, and Kyle Cooper, who didn’t get as much opportunity in SuperRugby as he would have liked.

“The Currie Cup players have shown what they can do and SuperRugby is a very tough competition, 16 matches and then the knockouts, a real marathon,” Macleod-Henderson said.

The coach said questions over the Sharks’ defence, the number of unforced errors they made, and the scrum, which was badly exposed by the Lions, will need to be answered before the next SuperRugby campaign.

An announcement is expected in the near future as to White’s successor, with Gary Gold, the former Springbok assistant coach and head coach of London Irish, Western Province, Newcastle, Bath and Kobelco Steelers, still the favourite to be appointed.

 



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