Super 15 hurting Currie Cup
Johannesburg - It will be a tough errand for whoever is sent to do the job, but the future wellbeing of the ABSA Currie Cup may well depend on the South African Rugby Union (SARU) convincing their Australian and New Zealand counterparts that the current format of Super Rugby needs to be changed.
One of the oldest provincial rugby tournaments in the world has survived perfectly happily for 119 years and through two world wars, but its prestige is being seriously threatened by the new, expanded and thoroughly imperfect Super Rugby competition.
This year is also a World Cup year, so the full Springbok squad of 30 will not be involved, while SARU has plans to reduce next season's Currie Cup from eight to six teams in order to fit it into a schedule that has been squeezed by Super Rugby.
"The length of the Super Rugby competition has affected our local competitions and that is something we have to address," SARU CEO Jurie Roux admitted.
"But it's unlikely two-versus-one [South Africa and New Zealand against Australia] will work; at Sanzar level we need consensus," Roux said.
Australia are highly unlikely to want to tamper with a format that is heavily weighted in their favour, both in terms of the conference system and in giving them the prestigious domestic tournament they have never had.
In terms of this year's Currie Cup, a competition without the Springboks could favour a team like the Bulls, who have top-class structures and depth in place.
However the 2009 champions may be on the wrong side of their peak, with the Stormers and Sharks overtaking them in this year's Super Rugby event.
The Bulls, Stormers and Sharks will all have large contingents of Springboks absent, creating a window for the Lions and Free State Cheetahs.
But the Lions need to overcome a lack of star quality - flyhalves Butch James and Elton Jantjies are the only players in the preliminary Springbok squad - as well as an increasingly nasty battle between their board and former investors GumaTAC if they are to make an impact.
Coach John Mitchell is in a bullish mood however.
"While investment is important, what happens upstairs doesn't affect us. We'd like to improve on last year, when
we gave ourselves an opportunity right at the end before falling just short, and we have some continuity from Super Rugby," Mitchell told City Press.
The Cheetahs played some typically audacious rugby on the way to their best Super Rugby season ever and their exciting side will be looking to build on their excellent Currie Cup record of reaching five of the last seven finals, winning two and sharing one.
For the likes of Griquas, the Pumas and Leopards, they will be looking to secure as many big-name scalps as possible before their possible exit from the limelight thanks to a boardroom decision.