South African PRO14 Teams: SARU Treading Water

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PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 14: Kings fans during the Super Rugby match between Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on July 14, 2017 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

South African PRO14 teams sounds like a good idea to some, but is SARU only treading water while trying to work out what their future direction is?

South African PRO14 Teams: SARU Treading Water

How this situation plays itself out is not only of importance to the two new South African PRO14 teams, but to every professional rugby team in the country. For those interested in the finer details of how the competition will be structured, you can find more information here.

The impact on the teams

The Cheetahs have started losing players to the other Unions, with Springbok wing Raymond Ruhle being the latest to sign for the Stormers, with a few other rumours circulating. They have retained the bulk of their 2016 Currie Cup winning team and 2017 Super Rugby side though. The issue they are facing is that the PRO14 kicks off in September. The 2017 version of the Currie Cup has already started, with the round robin stages being completed on 14 October. The playoff games will be played on 21 October and the final on 28 October.

This means that they have close to a two month overlap between the two competitions.  As a Super Rugby outfit, they have used players from their franchise partners the Griquas to supplement their squad. The Griquas are also part of the Currie Cup and will not be so keen to share their playing resources if they are compromised in this competition. The Cheetahs have added Kings players Malcom Jaer and Makazole Mapimpi to their squad, along with a number of Springbok Sevens players on a short term deal on the HSBC World Rugby 7s kicks off again.

The Kings are completely compromised in this arrangement. They still do not have a title sponsor, so attracting marquee players is still off the agenda. They relied on other Super Rugby franchises and Currie Cup teams to supplement the small player base they have. These same teams will not be as keen to provide players to the Kings as they have been in the past. Once again, the two month overlap of competitions will be their concern.  They will be competing for their own success or survival in either the Currie Cup Premier or First Division and will be loathe to release their playing resources to another team. The Kings therefore have 5 weeks to assemble yet another new team.

What is the future of the Currie Cup?

This is a question that SARU appear reluctant to answer. Last Word on Rugby, posed the following question to a senior official at SARU:

“The Currie Cup Premier Division team the Cheetahs and Currie Cup First Division team the Kings have been confirmed as participating in the Guinness PRO14 from September 2017. What impact does SARU expect will be made on the Currie Cup competition? The Cheetahs are the reigning champions and the Kings draw players from both Divisions of the tournament. There is an overlap between the two competitions.”
The answer received was as close to “No comment” as you can get and we referred back to the Cheetahs and Kings, with no comment offered as to what the direction will be with the Currie Cup. Last Word on Rugby interprets this as future of the competition is undecided, so we put forward the following two possible scenarios:

The Currie Cup stays as is

Each year the Cheetahs will compete in the Currie Cup for the first month of the competition with their PRO14 squad, using the competition as a warm up for the PRO14. For the rest of the competition, they will compete with a severely weakened squad. The question begs: Is this fair to the Cheetahs, their fans and the competition? The Kings have already been relegated to the First Division, so the impact on the Currie Cup is limited.

The South African rugby calendar will be turned upside down

With two of their teams testing European waters and another having reported to have approached SARU to join them. Is SARU planning the ultimate blindside? Are they treading water with the Currie Cup and Super Rugby until the 2021 season? Picture this. The current Super Rugby deal runs until the end of 2020. All of the current South African Super Rugby sides are entered into the PRO14. Unlike the current arrangement with the PRO14, South African teams would be eligible to qualify for the European Rugby Championship.
If this theory indeed plays itself out, there would be a hole in the South African rugby calendar between May and the end of August to present a more relevant, revitalized Currie Cup competition.
Yes, this is all based on conjecture. The reality though is that SARU and the South African rugby viewing public have fallen out of love with Super Rugby and new opportunities will attract a lot of attention.

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