Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert explains the complex structure of the 2016 Currie Cup competition.
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) last Friday announced a revamped Currie Cup which will see Namibia take part alongside South Africa’s 14 provincial unions.
The Vodacom Cup, which used to run concurrently with Super Rugby, has been scrapped with the Currie Cup to start earlier than usual (on April 9).
In all, there will be 166 Currie Cup matches played compared to 76 in 2015 - with every team facing each other in the first stage of the competition which will conclude on July 23.
Irrespective of how well they perform in that first stage, the six South African Super Rugby unions - the Golden Lions, Western Province, Blue Bulls, Free State Cheetahs, Sharks and EP Kings - will automatically move on to the "Premier Division" with the three non-franchise teams with the greatest number of log points joining them.
The remaining six teams will then contest the "First Division" title.
What this essentially means is that the first stage of the competition will be nothing more than a glorified Vodacom Cup. The top unions will have their best players playing Super Rugby, but winning or losing won’t matter at all as they are guaranteed entry into the Premier Division no matter what position they finish on the log.
However, the so-called smaller unions - Griquas, Boland, SWD, Border, Griffons, Valke, Leopards and Pumas (as well as Namibia) will have everything to play for as they will be fighting for the three remaining spots in the Premier Division.
It’s somewhat bizarre to think that the top teams will play 14 round-robin matches without those counting for much. They will no doubt use this phase of the competition to build depth in certain positions before being bolstered by their Super Rugby players later in the year.
For the smaller unions, there will be the incentive of having a shot at playing in the Currie Cup top flight.
The second stage of the competition will also be played over a single round where teams will start from scratch as points will not be carried over from the first stage.
The top four teams will then contest the semi-finals before the grand finale in October.