Revamped Currie Cup a step in the right direction

Western Province were able to celebrate a 34th Currie Cup triumph in 2017, but will they be able to defend it now that it will be played in a new single-round format? Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

In a time when sports tournaments have to continually revamp themselves to remain relevant, commercially viable and -- disappointedly low on the pecking order -- a 'must-watch' for the paying consumer, the Currie Cup has undergone its third overhaul in recent times.

The 2018 tournament (the 80th edition since 1892) will be played in a format which rugby fans have been crying out for the not-so Super Rugby to adopt: namely that everybody plays everybody else, and not till the cows come home.

Still gone are Sections X and Y (because understanding them made people Zzzz) and a desperation to find a place for the Eastern Province Kings in the top division, but now also home-and-away clashes which necessitated watered-down fixtures during July when South African rugby lovers' attention was still focused (for their sins) on which local franchise would sneak into the Super Rugby playoffs only to receive a hiding in New Zealand...

Replacing the above will be a weekly 'final-before-the-final' bunfight which should deliver enthralling attacking rugby -- and probably quite a few upsets (so devoid from the franchise version of the game). Furthermore, supporters will have a reason to attend their team's home matches again because there'll possibly be only three of them.

Every weekend there will be plumb fixtures, with playoff places riding on them. From the opening weekend's Free State Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls clash (which pits 5th vs 4th of 2017, who were separated by a measly point), or the Blue Bulls-Golden Lions 'Jukskei derby' on 1 September when Rassie Erasmus may have released a few fringe Springboks or the Sharks' only chance to get revenge for last year's final on Western Province in Cape Town on 29 September. Never mind what could be at stake when the Streeptruie then head to Bulls country in the final match of the pool stage on 13 October.

While the revamp promises an exciting tournament (bigger isn't better!), the absence of Springbok players for most of the tournament remains a negative; similarly another tier of players being on loan to Japan Top League clubs and the men from Bloemfontein's Currie Cup-PRO14 juggle act.

However, the nature of modern professional sport is such that the good has to be taken with a little bad and the single-round 2018 Currie Cup (sponsored by two companies, Nashua and DirectAxis, lest we forget the paucity of brands flush enough to financially back a sports league by itself) can only be a good move; especially so when the revamped Super Rugby turned out to be so turgid that it largely drove rugby lovers even further away -- from couches and stadiums -- than they already were.