Johannesburg – South African rugby fans are currently witnessing a closely contested strength-versus-strength Currie Cup competition, but if Saru and some of the First Division unions have their way we’re set for a new-look eight-team – or even 14-team – Premier Division competition from next year.
There can be no denying the current six-team format, played over two rounds, home and away, has generally delivered tight, closely contested matches – exactly what fans want – but the need to get the Kings from the Eastern Cape up to a level that will help them be competitive in Super Rugby has necessitated a change to the current structure.
The Kings, of course, should have been playing Currie Cup Premier Division rugby years ago, in anticipation for their entrance to Super Rugby. It never happened and while they were fairly competitive in their Super Rugby debut season this year, playing provincial rugby at a higher level than First Division will only benefit them. Sadly, they won’t be playing Super Rugby next year as the Lions won back their place in the promotion-relegation matches, but it’s understandable Saru – and whoever else – want the Kings to be better prepared next time around.
But, is it fair that the Kings get an automatic place in an expanded Currie Cup? The Leopards will say no, because, after all, they were demoted the last time the competition changed, from eight to six teams. The Pumas, by far the best team in the First Division, deserve their place.
Now, I don’t have a problem with the Currie Cup becoming an eight-team competition, if the two teams “coming up” deserve their places – and a look at the First Division log tells us the Pumas and Kings are in the first two places – so there’s no issue there. But should Saru be considering a return to a 14-team competition, and scrapping the First Division?
South Africa have already had a Currie Cup competition involving all 14 teams and yes, there were some big scores put up, but it also allowed the little guys to get some attention and there were enough upsets in places like George, Witbank, Welkom, Paarl and Potchefstroom to ensure an entertaining competition. Also, rugby would get a boost in many of those forgotten regions and if France can have a Top 14, why can’t South Africa?
The Currie Cup is already so watered down because of the absence of the Springboks that with a little local money pumped into the First Division teams and some smart coaching, we could end up with a fairly strong 14-team competition. And, let’s be honest, we see so many matches involving the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks, WP/Stormers – in Super Rugby and the Premier Division – wouldn’t it be refreshing to see some other names and teams in action? Just a thought.