SA rugby woes: A complete overhaul not so simple

Herman Mostert
Herman Mostert

Cape Town - Following the Springboks’ worst season ever, it’s pretty clear that some sort of overhaul is needed in South African rugby.

There have been calls from 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning flyhalf Joel Stransky for South Africa to ditch two of its Super Rugby teams, while former Bok coach Nick Mallett feels SA Rugby can't sustain 14 professional unions.

Several pundits and former players have also hit out at the supposed “amateur” administrators running the game, in part blaming them for the national team’s woes.

It’s clear that there are lots to be discussed and hopefully some solutions will be found at SA Rugby's general council meeting scheduled for December 9.

It is however difficult to see a complete and sudden overhaul, with many factors to be taken into consideration.

Stransky has a point when he says "if we want to be strong in the future we need strong domestic rugby."

His suggestion of four South African Super Rugby teams is therefore a valid one but a reduction in the number of teams is highly unlikely, and perhaps not practical.

Political pressure forced the Kings’ inclusion into Super Rugby and therefore saw an expansion of the tournament to 18 teams.

As mentioned in a previous column, SA Rugby calls the shots at SANZAAR.

Via broadcaster SuperSport, it generates most of the money for the southern hemisphere governing body and no doubt used this “power” to bargain for the Kings’ inclusion as the sixth South African team.

Suddenly scrapping the Kings would not go down well with the sports ministry, while getting rid of another team - likely the Cheetahs - would also create some issues.

Their top players, as well as head coach Franco Smith, would not be keen to ply their trade in the second-rate Currie Cup Qualifying tournament while the others play Super Rugby.

It would in all likelihood see them loaned to other franchises, or even join the large exodus abroad.

Expanding Super Rugby to 18 teams no doubt diminished the competition's standard, but with SA Rugby unlikely to budge on its number of teams, something needs to be done to create a stronger domestic system.

During the years of isolation, the strength of the country’s premier domestic competition, the Currie Cup, was well documented and can be attributed to the Springboks’ largely seamless transition back into international rugby, with the 1995 World Cup win coming a mere three years after the Boks' re-introduction to the international fold.

In those days, the Currie Cup mainly featured six teams, with the country’s top players on show every week.

It created a strength versus strength environment which made the Currie Cup the world’s strongest domestic competition.

A possible solution could be to let the Super franchises contest a six-team Currie Cup, however the way seasons are currently structured, it’s not possible to see a Currie Cup with all the top players participating, as it clashes with the Springboks’ participation in the Rugby Championship.

It won't really be strength versus strength with no Springboks taking part... 

Mallett also made an interesting point on SuperSport this past weekend when he said SA Rugby can’t afford to keep paying millions to sustain 14 professional unions: “We’ve got to change something. First of all, we’ve got to change the structure in South African rugby. There’s absolutely no question about that. You cannot have 14 provinces, with the greatest respect to some of the minor provinces, but they’re just really costing a lot and probably the cause of a lot of our players going overseas because we’re giving minor unions R24-25 million a year to run their unions…”

Heeding Mallett's advice would no doubt aide the six franchises, as well as help keep more talented players in South Africa.

But I can’t see it happening. Why would the presidents from the eight smaller unions agree to vote against receiving funds to run their unions?

Basically reverting back to amateur rugby would be catastrophic for the minor unions, who won’t be able to survive without financial backing from the national body.

It is clear that there are several issues in the South African game that need to be addressed, and at present, there are seemingly more questions than answers.

In the short to medium term, SA Rugby needs to make sure there is a change in the structure of Super Rugby.

The format of the competition will be reviewed next year, when SA Rugby should again use its bargaining power to amend the format.

If they’re not going to slash the number of teams, then fewer local derbies and more action against the benchmark-setting Kiwi teams could be a start...

Herman Mostert works at Sport24 - is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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