Super Rugby

OPINION | It would be criminal not to use 2021 to see if local rugby really is 'lekker'

Ox Nche tackles Shaun Reynolds in last year's Currie Cup final between the Cheetahs and Golden Lions.
Ox Nche tackles Shaun Reynolds in last year's Currie Cup final between the Cheetahs and Golden Lions.
Gordon Arons
  • South African rugby's immediate future is domestic-based competitions only due to Covid-19 restrictions, but it's a reality that should be embraced.
  • While there's much talk over the need to join European leagues, SA Rugby would do well to use 2021's limitations to test the value of a full-strength local competition, much like England and France.
  • Player departures will in all likelihood continue over the years, but the pandemic has shown that high-profile players can be attracted back home, bolstering the quality of any tournament. 

One of Jurie Roux’s more interesting quotes out of SA Rugby’s wide-ranging briefing last week (and there were plenty of them) was about the Currie Cup.

In explaining how potential commercial value could influence a decision over a tournament’s structure, the federation’s chief said: "When you get to those decisions and the commercial value for a six-team Currie Cup is R100m and politically people want to have a 12-team Currie Cup and you get R10m from that, the decision becomes very easy."

This is not the first time he used that example.

He said a similar thing back in early June, which suggests to me that that might be quite an accurate going rate for a full-strength domestic spectacle.

With Covid-19 restrictions meaning that quarantine-free international travel will, conservatively speaking, only start again at the end of May next year earliest, SA-only competition is local rugby’s immediate future.

That reality shouldn’t be met with a sigh of depression. 

One should rather embrace its intrigue.

I’m not for one moment saying that SA Rugby shouldn’t be exploring the European avenues that every second rugby fan seems so keen on.

I find the idea of an expanded PRO14 quite attractive and sympathetic to the brand of rugby that makes South African teams successful.

However, let’s not dismiss the idea of an eight-team "Super Rugby South Africa" – which will probably have to happen in 2021 if the local game is to survive economically and prepare for the British and Irish Lions – as one that just keeps everyone busy before the "real" action (in some form) returns.

Despite the obvious commercial differences, it’s useful to remember that England and France don’t primarily play cross-border competitions.

Yes, their best finishers compete in the multi-nation Champions Cup, but their main products are domestic leagues: the Premiership and Top14.

Given that SA Rugby will be forced to adopt a similar if shorter model, it could have the added benefit of truly showcasing the virtues of the local game again.

The longevity of the Covid-19 pandemic has the added benefit of rebalancing South Africa’s player exodus. With finances far tighter all over the world, various of our country’s big earners have stayed put and rather absorbed pay cuts.

More importantly, the Bulls have illustrated brilliantly that a local franchise can attract overseas-based Springboks in their prime, particularly Arno Botha, for less money with a sound vision under a pedigreed coach.

Couple that with a properly implemented loan system – one of the local, de-centralised contracting systems’ biggest objectives – that helps boost franchises like the Kings, Griquas and Pumas and a SA franchise tournament might gain traction.

I have no idea what the future holds.

And my head tells me South African rugby’s economic welfare lies in international competition.

But my heart also tells me it will be criminal to waste 2021’s platform for intensively exploring whether local is really lekker

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