Currie Cup

Currie Cup: It’s still relevant

2013-08-08 14:10
Currie Cup (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – It may lack the weightiness of times gone by, with Super Rugby the huge modern party-killer, but for all the attempts to bludgeon it over the head with a blunt instrument the Currie Cup keeps bouncing back for more.

This year is no different ... and I would argue that its relevance may even have cranked back up a notch from lost ground.

That is because of the unwelcome, increasing trend in 2013 for international and/or decent first-class players from these shores to pursue careers abroad before they have even hit their prime in South Africa itself.

This only increases the urgency for fresh talent to be unearthed in a hurry, with the Currie Cup now a key avenue in that regard.

Not too many years ago, after all, it was a more common phenomenon for slightly long-in-the-tooth players to give their fading careers a late turbo-boost financially by signing up for European and other clubs abroad for a twilight year or two.

Sadly, and with the physical ravages of a hugely expanded Super Rugby starting to take a toll even on 25- and 26-year-olds who have been exposed to its rigours for a couple of seasons, considerably younger stars are now beginning to take that route.

Just a few examples of departed big-name players (and decidedly not has-beens) from the domestic scene over the course of the past two year or much more recently are JC Janse van Rensburg, Chiliboy Ralepelle, JP Pietersen, Francois Louw, CJ Stander, Quinn Roux, Juandre Kruger and Ryan Kankowski.

All of undoubted Super Rugby calibre, the holes they and plenty of others have left at local franchises present challenges to the potential competitiveness down the line of those teams in the southern hemisphere’s headline competition.

Some of the unions are always, and often shrewdly, active on the recruitment market, but this is also where the Currie Cup has assumed new importance: it has become an invaluable development competition for the following year’s sides in the SA conference of Super Rugby.

Cynics are inclined to suggest it has become marginalised to the extent of being little more than an extension to the ho-hum Vodacom Cup.

But the latter competition runs roughly parallel to Super Rugby, badly limiting its profile, and is really more of a feeder event to the Currie Cup, which at least earns much more of a high-profile media and television presence given that it is the main domestic attraction throughout the second half of the local season.

And coming so close to preparation for the next Super Rugby campaign, it churns out often unexpected young candidates for enlarged early-season squads in that competition, some of whom even make swift inroads in the SANZAR event itself and can also vault spectacularly into the Springbok picture.

National coach Heyneke Meyer has already shown in his relatively short time at the helm that he is not at all shy to summon raw 20- or 21-year-olds into his plans, with stirring success in various instances: the names of Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and currently crocked Pieter-Steph du Toit and Arno Botha come rapidly to mind.

With more and more South African enthusiasts also tapping in with greater interest these days (thanks to the blanket television coverage) to the IRB Junior World Championship, the opportunity to infuse fresh-faced characters from that arena quickly into the Currie Cup now is probably a fillip for the domestic competition’s relevance and appeal, rather than a deterrent.

Certainly the Baby Boks have been highly competitive at the tournament over the last couple of years, winning it on home soil in 2012 and ending a still-creditable third this year ... so who wouldn’t be keen to gauge whether such influential players from the 2013 version as Cheslin Kolbe (Western Province) and Jacques du Plessis (Blue Bulls) settle in speedily to first-class rugby when these old rivals clash at Newlands in Saturday’s headline opening Currie Cup fixture?

The home-and-away league phase of the competition ought to feature a pleasing amount of strength versus strength fare, given the most powerful unions’ very stretched senior resources which will keep an unfashionable side like Griquas notably interested in collecting major scalps whenever possible.

Predicting a tournament winner is a bit of a lottery, given that Springboks traditionally tend to drift conveniently back to their Currie Cup teams from the semi-final phase, so in the case of the bigger unions it is a case of seeing whether their rookies can actually squeeze them into the all-important top four before the complexion of the starting line-up - rightly or wrongly - alters fairly dramatically.

Defending champions WP have named a near-Super Rugby strength first XV of the campaign, with the Sharks (soaking in the potentially exciting new Brendan Venter-led brains trust) and Cheetahs teams also featuring no lack of grunt from that level.

Mind you, the Blue Bulls will shortly look less raw, as they gradually filter in useful acquisitions from the Kings ranks ... perhaps those are the quartet to tip initially for semis berths, even if Griquas and the Lions definitely won’t play rollover for weeks on end?

This weekend’s Round 1 fixtures:

Friday, August 9
Sharks v Griquas, Durban - 19:10

Saturday, August 10
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs, Johannesburg - 15:00
Western Province v Blue Bulls, Cape Town - 17:05

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


Read more on:    currie cup  |  rob houwing  |  rugby

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