JOHANNESBURG - So many competitions to pick from, just what are we going to do?
This year, and for as long as rugby has been played across borders, all we’ve known in South Africa is Super Rugby. It has grown from 10 to 12 to 14 to 15 to 18 teams, with newcomers like the Force, Rebels, Jaguares and Sunwolves all making an appearance in the past few years.
From next year though, South Africans will get a new taste of international provincial or club rugby when the Cheetahs and Kings join the Pro 12, to now become the Pro 14. Or, at least that’s what we hear is going to happen.
Then there’s the likelihood, too, of other South African teams joining the Anglo-Welsh Cup and others heading to America to play in a new competition there. At the same time the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will continue in Super Rugby.
Where’s it all going to end, and how are all these competitions going to impact on one another and the conditioning of the players, who for so long have been told by sports scientists they need to get more rest.
The biggest impact though could be felt right here in South Africa, with the Currie Cup surely in danger of being chopped from the schedule in years to come.
Already it is a watered-down competition because so many players head to Japan to earn a few extra bucks between August and February each year - something the union’s allow just so they can hang on to their best players for Super Rugby duties. And, in between, players also are lost to the Springboks.
But with the 2017 edition of the so-called strength-versus-strength seven-team Currie Cup starting this weekend, one’s got to wonder if it isn’t already dead in the water? It’s coming just a week after the finish of the new SuperSport Rugby Challenge and for conceivably three rounds the Lions, or Sharks or Stormers will be without their best players because one or more of them will still be involved in the Super Rugby play-offs.
The Lions especially could be hard-hit. With Johan Ackermann leaving to Gloucester when the Super Rugby season is done, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira are in the hot-seat for the Currie Cup ... but their focus for the next three weeks, hopefully, will be on winning the Super Rugby title as assistants to Ackermann. How fair is that on the Currie Cup Lions, and the others?
The so-called new Pro 14, including the Cheetahs and Kings - who’ve been axed from Super Rugby - also starts in September, a full month and more before the Currie Cup is scheduled to finish, in late October. How will this scheduling problem affect those two teams’ Currie Cup ambitions ... and Pro 14 ambitions?
And let’s not forget that while the Cheetahs and Kings have run their Super Rugby race, we’re still no closer to knowing who in Australia will be chopped from their conference next year ... will it be the Force, or Rebels, or Brumbies?
One thing is certain though, the format and structure of determining the Super Rugby finalists needs a big shake up. How can it be deemed right and fair that the Brumbies - with a lowly six wins from 15 matches this season for 34 log points - host a quarter-final this weekend? But then how right is it that the Sunwolves, who took nearly 100 points against the Lions, and won only twice this year, stay in?
The good news though is this new-look 15-team Super Rugby competition - where all the teams will still not play against all the other teams because there isn’t enough time for that - is for the next three seasons only, until the current broadcast agreement expires. And then, hopefully, we get a competition worthy of being called super!