Based on the Eastern Province Kings’ first Currie Cup match in 15 years, it’s safe to say they’ll have uninterrupted access to the basement this year, which confirms the view that South African rugby will be much weaker for their inclusion in Super Rugby from 2016.
At first glance, a 35-16 reverse against Western Province isn’t a blowout. But consider that this was the first Currie Cup match in Port Elizabeth since 1999, and also a rare top-flight game for a region that is, reportedly, desperate to prove its rugby credentials.
A win against Western Province, last year’s losing finalists, would have inspired hope that there is truth to rumours that the Eastern Cape is teeming with world-class rugby players.
It would also have iced rhetoric from the Kings’ detractors, much like last year’s 22-10 win against the visiting Western Force in the region’s inaugural Super Rugby clash.
Power-wrangling EP president Cheeky Watson knew what was at stake months prior to Saturday’s Currie Cup opener.
The best he could muster was a team that conceded four tries against a visiting WP outfit which featured eight players on Currie Cup debut.
And Province played a man down for half an hour after conceding three yellow cards.
Kings protagonists will argue that this Currie Cup side bears no resemblance to the team that will trot out for Super Rugby duty in 2016.
Their point only underlines concerns that the arrival of the Kings will dilute, rather than fortify, an SA Conference that had just one representative finish in the top nine on the standings this year.
There are almost 250 South Africans playing first-class rugby abroad, and local administrators concede that they cannot slow this trend because they do not have the resources to contend with big-money offers from overseas clubs.
In the continued absence of those overseas-based players, compounded by the flurry of Bok retirements after next year’s World Cup, the current crop of good-to-mediocre talent will be spread across six teams.
Name six scrumhalves good enough to start for an SA Super Rugby team, and their back-ups.
The Kings’ promotion to Super Rugby, without first having proven themselves in the Currie Cup by making good on claims of superior playing resources, and without answering questions about their administrative competencies, is a definitive case of subtraction by addition.
Their arrival will only accelerate the exodus of players who want to win trophies in top rugby competitions, and get paid accordingly.
It's only a matter of time before fan interest follows these players north, and Toulon sell more jerseys in Cape Town than Western Province. - Cape Argus