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CURRIE CUP

SA Rugby backs growth with Georgia, Kenya, Zimbabwe in domestic competition

SA Rugby backs growth with Georgia, Kenya, Zimbabwe in domestic competition
Georgia’s players take the field to face the Springboks during the international rugby match at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on 2 July 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

SA Rugby announced an expansion of domestic rugby competitions this week, finding place at the table for Kenya, Zimbabwe and Georgia in the Currie Cup first division.

There is a sector of the rugby world that likes to view South African rugby through a certain prism. That constituency sees SA as bullies and marauders, whose actions both on the field and in the boardroom are executed with the subtlety of a charging rhino.

In the wake of the news that the Springboks are set for a move to join the Six Nations in 2025, the anti-South Africa lobby railed. The Boks joining rugby’s oldest international competition would somehow destroy the soul of the game and weaken the growth of the sport.

The presumption was that the Boks would replace Italy, the weakest link in the Six Nations, and not simply be added to the tournament. Nothing has been finalised yet, other than there is an agreement in principle for the Boks to play in the Six Nations. The structure and format of that tournament beyond 2025 is still being ironed out and Italy have not been ejected.

The naysayers, without a real sense of irony, claimed the Boks’ inclusion would kill Italian rugby (again on the presumption they would be axed).  

Yet only days after that news emerged, SA Rugby provided a lifeline for the problem child of European rugby – Georgia.

The emerging eastern European powerhouse has, for years, been lobbying for a place in the Six Nations. Or at the very least, a chance to break into the group by playing in a promotion/relegation system.

But they have never had any success and, despite a thriving local club scene and several Tests a year, mostly against tier two nations, Georgian rugby is in an endless purgatory. They’re a little too good to be a tier two nation, but not quite good enough as a tier one team.

The news that the Boks are set to leapfrog them into the Six Nations is obviously a blow to Georgia’s long-term ambitions in that tournament.

Offering a hand

SA Rugby, though, has at least offered Georgia some form of compensation by giving them a place in the Currie Cup first division competition starting this year.

The secondary competition is of a modest standard as unions such as the Leopards, Griffons and Eastern Province, which play in it, are staffed by semi-professional players.

For Georgia in particular, but also for Kenya and Zimbabwe who have also been included, it offers a chance to grow and learn in a rugby-mad country. Georgia will certainly lift the standard a few notches as well.

For all the criticism SA Rugby receives, it has often been at the forefront of growing the game.

It was in the old Vodacom Cup where the foundations for Argentina’s eventual transition to the Rugby Championship and into Super Rugby with the Jaguares were laid.

Between 2010 and 2013, the “Pampas XV” from Argentina competed in the Vodacom Cup, winning the title in 2011.

A quick look at some of the names in the Pampas XV that won the modest Vodacom Cup title read like a who’s who of modern Argentinian rugby. Joaquín Tuculet, Juan Imhoff, Nicolás Sánchez, Martín Landajo, Tomás Cubelli, Agustín Creevy, Francisco Tetaz Chaparro and Leonardo Senatore were just some of the players in that team.

Eight years later, in 2019, most of the 2011 vintage and several other players such as Pablo Matera, who had come through the Pampas XV project, were playing in the final of Super Rugby as Jaguares.

If the Currie Cup first division can be a similar springboard not only for Georgia but also for Kenya and Zimbabwe, then rugby benefits.

Georgia will be based in Stellenbosch and will play their “home matches” at the Markotter Stadium. They will return to Europe for two weeks of internationals midway through the tournament and they will then “forfeit” two of their games (likely to be against Griffons and Valke), but they will return to complete their fixtures.

Zimbabwe will be based in Cape Town and will play their “home matches” at False Bay Rugby Club.

Kenya will be based in Cape Town and play their “home matches” at City Park.

The trio of international participants will join the defending champions, the Leopards, Griffons, South Western Districts, Boland, Eastern Province, Border and the Valke over a single round of action, starting in April, with the final scheduled for the final weekend of June.

None of the international teams will play as their Test squads but as Georgia XV, Zimbabwe Goshawks and the Kenya Simbas and matches between those three teams won’t carry Test status.

They will also not be eligible for promotion to the Currie Cup premier division.

There will be a promotion/relegation component to the Currie Cup, with the top South African team in the first division automatically promoted to the premier division. The premier division will be expanded from its current seven teams to eight next season.

In addition, the promoted team will be entrenched for two seasons (until the end of the 2024 Currie Cup season) when the bottom team in the premier division will be automatically relegated. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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