Johannesburg - The Currie Cup Premier Division has continued to endure as a top-tier rugby competition and lost little of its lustre in its 123-year history, SA Rugby Union (SARU) chief executive Jurie Roux has said, in Johannesburg, on Wednesday.
Roux was speaking at the launch of the expanded tournament which will see eight instead of six of the country’s leading provinces battle it out for the coveted gold trophy starting on August 8.
"Year after year people speculate that it is going to be a watered-down competition and that it is not going to be so tough but every year it is the same competition and the same result," Roux said.
"People go to the games, they watch the games, the rivalry is there because the Currie Cup is tribal.
"That is what it is, it is a platform for players to show they belong in the green and gold, it is a platform for young players to show they can make the step-up to the national side."
Prior to the format change that saw six teams contest the Currie Cup over the past two years, eight teams made out the premier division.
The decision saw the Pumas and Leopards drop down to the first division where they have been playing since.
However, earlier this year a decision was made to expand the top flight competition which would give the six anchor unions of South Africa's Super Rugby franchises - the Blue Bulls, Sharks, Western Province, Free State Cheetahs, Golden Lions and EP Kings – a guaranteed place in the Currie Cup for the next two seasons.
The Pumas earned their place in this year’s competition the hard way by beating last year’s bottom-placed side, the Griquas in a promotion-relegation tussle.
Griquas also battled their way back into the top tier after winning a tight two-horse race against the Leopards in the recent qualification competition.
Should Griquas and the Pumas - the two non-franchise teams - finish seventh and eighth in the 2014 competition, they will both play in a 2015 qualification round of eight teams.
"There are some changes and we are proud of the changes, when we started off in the new format everyone was wondering if the qualification would work," Roux said.
"The playoff for the one position in the premiership part of the competition has been absolutely wonderful as it went down to the wire.
"We welcome Griquas back into the competition and then we are proud of the EP Kings and the fact that the South African Rugby Union through its unions have given them the opportunity to play in the top end of the competition.
"Obviously congratulations to Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse and his team, they’ve been knocking on the door for quite a while and have caused a couple of upsets."