Forget this 22-man nonsense, give coaches the extra player
Get a grip, Currie Cup. The universal trend in pro rugby is to have 23 players available on match day
There was a time when “Player 23” was known only as a mobile service provider’s less than catchy slogan in an advertising campaign.
It was intended to make fans feel part of the then 22-man rugby squads, but thankfully things have evolved to where we have an eight-man bench that backs up the starting XV.
Or so we thought. The Currie Cup, which SA Rugby keeps reminding us they still hold dear, has retained 22-man squads despite the universal trend in professional rugby to have 23 players available on match day.
For safety reasons World Rugby decreed that a loosehead prop, hooker and tighthead prop take up three of the positions on the substitutes’ bench.
SA Rugby, however, argued that belts needed to be tightened and that teams had to make do with 22 players.
That impacted the way teams were selected. Unlike their counterparts in Tests or Super Rugby, Currie Cup coaches are not compelled to select three front-rowers among their substitutes. It meant they had to deploy versatile, interchangeable props.
To give the coaches more options, SA Rugby this season introduced rolling substitutions in the Currie Cup, which means players who had been substituted were now permitted to return. A prop who went off in the 45th minute, for example, could catch his breath and return 20 minutes later and see out the game.
That has some bristling as it brings the integrity of the scrum into question. One of rugby’s central tenets is the fair contest for possession, and within it the scrum has endured as one of the sport’s primal pursuits.
Blue Bulls head coach Pote Human, a long time devotee of making headway in the heavy traffic, is left cold by rolling substitutions. Last week his team had the ascendancy for the bulk of the clash against the Golden Lions at Loftus, only to get scrummed off the ball and concede a penalty on their own feed late in the game when they were within a sniff of the visitors’ tryline.
He said he’d much rather have 23 players on his team list.
When SA Rugby opted to make budget cuts, sponsors were running away. Sponsors are on the return and the game’s domestic custodians have the obligation to do the same with their senses.