She may be a faded beauty but we can’t let this tipsy hag die
Currie Cup is partial to eccentricity which makes it quite endearing. Live on, old dear
It’s clear she’s not what she used to be. The facelifts and all-too-frequent nip-tucks have taken their toll. One hundred and twenty six years into her existence the Currie Cup, the grand dame of domestic rugby competitions around the world, has gradually lost her grandeur.
Occasionally her inherent splendour shines through, but it is almost exclusively reserved for when testosterone levels are at their most volatile in the urgency of the knockout stages. But, like a gin-guzzling aunt, the Currie Cup is partial to eccentricity which makes her, despite the foibles, quite endearing.
The competition that used to be the lifeblood of SA rugby during the isolation years can now barely pull a Springbok. Of course the odd Bok still features but the ones who also hold an SA Rugby contract very rarely do. That in turn has had an impact on crowd attendances, although the proliferation of televised sport has indubitably made its own negative impact.
The weather was far from inviting but the crowd at Kings Park for the Sharks’ semifinal against the Golden Lions was desperately poor. The attendances there have become so embarrassing local officials are reluctant to put up an official figure in the media centre.
There is a wide acceptance that the Currie Cup has become a developmental tournament in which the average age of participating players continues to drop. The Golden Lions may have had a few injuries but dropping 21-year-old tighthead prop Chergin Fillies into cauldron of a semifinal bordered child abuse. The Cheetahs, routinely such enthusiastic adversaries in the Currie Cup, had to prioritise the Pro 14 this season. They selected an entire team of Fillies’ ilk and finished bottom of the points table.
If there are fewer bums on seats it may also have something to do with the fact that the integrity of the competition is no longer beyond reproach. SA Rugby thinks so little of it they’ve reduced this season’s competition to a single round of six league matches before the playoffs.
Over the past few seasons they’ve also flouted World Rugby regulations by limiting squads to 22 players per match, and not the mandatory 23 as prescribed by the game’s governing body. They do that to cut costs, but from the semifinals onwards teams can select match squads of 23 players.
What cost cutting mechanism will they use next? Do they appoint referees for the finals of the Currie Cup, u21 and u19 competitions from the same province so that they can car pool on the day of their respective finals? (Actually, the referees for this year’s three finals are all from the Free State.)
As rooted as the Currie Cup may have seemed in obscurity last Saturday morning, it had found a way to capture the imagination by the evening. First the Lions launched a stirring but futile rearguard action against the Sharks, before Western Province and the Blue Bulls reminded us why sport remains the most vivid form of unscripted theatre. The stage was the Currie Cup and no one wants to see the curtain drop any time soon.