The poor Currie Cup. The organisers prepare all year, and are upstaged on their opening weekend by the Lions playing the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby final. It reflects very well on the strength of SA rugby that the Lions have got that far, and beaten a Highlanders team I consider a class act to get there, but — let’s be honest — the national and global media will still be focused more on New Zealand than South Africa come game day. That is as it should be, but makes lift-off tough for the Currie.
Let’s try and get this rocket fired up. A quick rewind to Johannesburg, 24 October 2015. A final marked by the fly-halves doing their best to keep the scores low; a final dominated by lock forwards and a reckless yellow card for the Western Province that ended their hopes of a remarkable come back. Like the English Aviva Premiership in recent years, a team who had performed only relatively well during the group stages ended up storming through the knockouts and claiming the title. There are arguments against this format, but it doesn’t half make for entertaining rugby for the whole season and to the bitter end of the knockouts. In short, from first to last game there is skin in the game.
Taking the longer view about how this game we love can push on: it is pretty exciting that Namibia had a team in the 2015 Currie Cup, although they may as well have played the full season on their sponsor’s brew. One point was a harsh return for a team with a gallon of heart. Let’s hope the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias go well this season.
So, fast forward to the weekend (I wish this were actually possible), what’s there to look out for?
The biggest news is happening off the pitch. The Eastern Province Kings’ participation in this year’s Currie Cup is currently being decided by the 13 provincial unions. This is slightly awkward timing given they are meant to kick off the season against the Sharks at 2pm on Friday. Given 36 EP Kings’ players took the franchise to court back in March for millions of rands in unpaid salaries and it was placed in provisional liquidation, it is difficult to see how this can end well at all. Let us hope the players and staff are paid what they are owed and a rescue deal comes through. Some things are more important than the game.
Moving onto the on-field rugby, this Friday evening we have an absolute firecracker of a fixture between the Bulls and Western Province at Loftus. I have a friend who always promises/threatens to take me to Pretoria for one of these games. As my flak jacket has yet to arrive, this weekend I will settle for television pictures of a marquee fixture in South African rugby. Let’s hope for the first red card to come at least after half time….that said, a solid melee after the first scrum always raises the temperature a few notches and kicks the season off to a good start.
In reality, this opening weekend will be overshadowed by the excitement that South Africa could win its first Super Rugby trophy since 2010. But if you want to see where the next set of Super Rugby or international champions will come from, tune in to the Currie Cup and you’ll see some future Bok stars fighting it out.
A big thank you to Edward Adkins for writing this piece, you can get hold of him on Twitter @floydroad.
Here is my 30 second one line predictions for the openning round of the Currie Cup.
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