South Africa can make it on its own, say rugby personalities
We have enough talent in South Africa to make it on our own.
That is what former UCT IKEYS coach Kevin Musikanth, former Stormers flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis and South African-born France-based centre Robert Ebersohn had to say about the Currie Cup competition and how we can refresh the ‘watered down’ domestic show.
The Currie Cup is far from what it once was, and over the years, we’ve seen many changes in terms of its format and suggestions offered as to how SA’s ‘premier’ competition can get back to drawing big crowds.
But with all Currie Cup teams deprived of their big-name players – be it the Springboks or their Super Rugby stars – as most of them head abroad following the conclusion of the Super Rugby season, it’ll be tough to get the local tournament back to its glory days. And while this year could certainly be different, it may not have a lasting impact.
With an expanded Currie Cup competition set to kick off early to mid-September, there can be no doubt that such a competition will deliver the most anticipated Currie Cup edition in decades should the Springboks feature for their domestic sides (the Rugby Championship, to be held in New Zealand, could influence this).
“We need a strong Currie Cup,” Catrakilis, a double Currie Cup-winner, who recently retired having played for Western Province, the Stormers, southern Kings, Montpellier and Harlequins, said.
“I remember when I started playing professional rugby, I think we had eight teams in the Currie Cup and they were all strong teams, there were international players in all eight teams, so there was good competition. There was also a second division and teams would try to get up into the first division.
“I think because we don’t have a big Currie Cup at the moment, we find ourselves not being self-reliant on our own rugby, we have to rely on other decision makers to join now when we have so much local talent. We shouldn’t have to rely on others, we just need the right system.
“One of the positives that’s come out of lockdown is that now is the time to strengthen our Currie Cup, now it’s the primary competition in South Africa. For so long it’s been secondary, and now is a good chance to get behind it and market it well.”
Musikanth, who won the Varsity Cup competition with UCT in 2014, added: “We have more than enough talent to make a really good competition, perhaps with some outside-the-box thinking to go with it as well.
“I think South Africa and Argentina are two of the only national teams in the world that rely on local players in their national side. If you look at other nations you’ll see a lot of foreigners that have gained eligibility to play. Given the strength of our school boy, varsity and domestic rugby we are blessed with enormous rugby resources.
“Everyone in the world knows the Currie Cup. As a South African kid when you are playing, you dream about playing in the Currie Cup and then as a coach you dream about coaching the Currie Cup. The tournament itself has a rich history.
“If we start to think outside the box we could really spice up the local competition. Kenya and Namibia have joined us in competitions before and of course the Jaguares, who later on went on to make a Super Rugby final, using the strength of our local competitions to prepare. A further extension could also help, we have also had a history of stars from overseas playing locally in SA, we can all think back to Laurent Cabannes, Olvier Ropumat, Thierry Lecroix to mention a few and of course recently Argentinian Manuel Carizza with the Stormers. We certainly can attract more foreign talent to our shores as well.
Ebersohn, 31, supported Catrakilis and Musikanth’s views on the value the domestic competition still offers and said that he’d be keen to play rugby in South Africa again.
The centre has been playing in France since 2013, where he most recently ran out for Castres Olympique, who he signed with in 2016 after racking up almost half a century of appearances for Montpellier.
“Even while playing in France I’ve always imagined playing in South Africa with 14 teams, with the Pumas and Griquas and Falcons all playing in one competition and all of them equally divided, and I know it's not always realistic, it's different for each country,” the former Cheetahs and Springbok Sevens player said.
“Playing over here I often wonder how it would be to have 14 teams playing in one competition and then a second division. Yes, the big thing people always refer to is there not being enough money and you need supporters to make money, but stadiums are much smaller in France, when I play for Castres there are often only between 10 000 and 15 000 thousand people and it feels like it’s crowded but it’s not, that’s only because the stadiums are so small.”
The Currie Cup could very well return to its ‘watered down’ state post-2020 (without the Springboks), so how do we revive the local tournament?
One suggestion has been to include international or invitational teams to play in the Currie Cup, as Musikanth also alluded to. Ebersohn, though, feels that we need to focus on our local sides to reignite passion and involvement from fans and, in turn, strengthen the competition.
“Our school system is the strongest in the world and a lot of that talent just leaves, obviously there is a lot of money overseas, but we certainly don’t need other countries to help us with the amount of talented players and coaches we have in South Africa. We need to stop looking abroad for ways to strengthen us,” he said.
Ebersohn could be of interest to a number of South African teams who could do with more midfield stocks, and while the outside centre said he hasn’t been presented with any offers from his home country yet, the opportunity to play in SA again is one he wouldn’t easily turn down.
“I got to France almost seven years ago, and I would definitely go back to South Africa now. I haven’t been approached by any teams, I know some teams are looking for players with a lot of players leaving South African shores, so teams are looking, but I haven’t been formally approached by any team. It’s definitely something I would really consider.”