SA’s wealth of rugby talent

The allure of the cosmopolitan display of rugby on the global stage in France has provided overwhelming competition for this year’s domestic showpiece, the 2007 Currie Cup.

Despite the welcome panache and entertainment that have been provided by the two dominant sides, the Cheetahs and the Sharks, the Currie Cup has crept to its final stages almost unnoticed by the South African public.

One would question the wisdom of scheduling a mammoth 14 games for each of the seven sides in the top division, all in a bid to rule out only three of those seven sides, and to then decide where the remaining four will play their semifinals.

But one must remember that as the window period of any tournament extends, so too does the sale of broadcasting rights, and this must surely be the motivating factor in drowning the sporting landscape of South Africa in a domestic overload of rugby, played while its superstars are all out of the country.

But, that said, the excitement of the gathering momentum of the Springbok World Cup campaign no doubt ensured that the Currie Cup was not going to be the highlight of the latter part of this year’s rugby, even though its outcome is turning out to be an intriguing and exciting affair.

This weekend sees the final league stage of the Currie Cup, played during the quarterfinal round of the battle for the Webb Ellis trophy — meaning the semifinals of the two mismatched tournaments will be played on the same weekend.

Thankfully, the Currie Cup final has been delayed a week to accommodate the World Cup final, so if the Springboks don’t go all the way in France, one can expect the full weight of South African attention to turn locally.

The Currie Cup took on near-religious status during the isolation period, but under the weight of Super Rugby and an ever-growing international calendar, the Currie Cup has struggled to maintain its prestige.

This has been coupled with an inability on the part of the administrators to find the best format for the competition. They have chosen often to include second-tier sides, who really have no place with professional outfits such as the Sharks and the Blue Bulls. That said, the current tournament does show the strength of South African rugby.

A few seasons ago the quality of our local rugby was a serious issue, with many of our players seemingly inept to play any form of creative rugby at a professional pace.

This sickness, endemic to the Currie Cup, is fast approaching total elimination and the results can be seen in South Africa’s strength internationally — both at Super 14 level and at Test level our best years are still ahead of us.

But this year’s competition has revealed a steady base of thriving talent, all of whom would not feel vastly out of place if they were in France at this moment.

A long list of prodigious talent that includes the likes of the vastly underrated Odwa Ndungane, as well as Kabamba Floors, rookie Conrad Hoffmann, Rory Kockott, Ryan Kankowski and Waylon Murray suggests that our rugby’s best years are ahead. Add to this is the settled endeavour of the slick Cheetahs outfit and one can appreciate the vast underlying potency of South African rugby.

The fact that none of these stars has caused public outcry about their exclusion from the World Cup squad must be a source of vindication for national coach Jake White, who has come under fire in past years for his selection policies.

But there is indeed a simmering strength ready to thrust South African rugby into the next four years.

The devastation of Eastern Cape rugby and their absence from the top-flight continue to be a worry and that remains the missing piece of the jigsaw domestically, especially in light of the unresolved transformation issue.

The death of Eastern Province as a force in rugby has been tragic, while the lack of any meaningful transformation is bound to be a thorn in South African rugby’s side.

Yet, if the 2007 Currie Cup has revealed anything, it has shown us that South African rugby can, in its next era, reach even loftier heights.

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