Posts Tagged ‘Currie Cup’

Fiddling while the jersey burns

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

IN A speech in Durban a few days ago, South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins fingered schools as one of the stumbling blocks to transformation in the Springboks. Saru runs an annual budget of close on a billion rand.

All they have to do is channel some of that into the cash-strapped schools in the Eastern Cape bursting with black rugby talent and passion. Add a few high-performance academies to hone the skills of the front runners and then persuade its coaches to give all players of colour equal opportunity with white players and you’d soon see a lot more black Springboks.

To his credit, Hoskins took responsibility for not adequately supporting previous Springbok coaches. This presumably included Peter de Villiers, last seen presiding over the public burning of the Springbok jersey.

The furore over the paucity of black players in the 2015 Bok squad has been dismissed in some quarters as par for the course in a World Cup year. But this is nonsense.

The Rugby World Cup is a big deal: it’s when we show the world who we are — in technicolour. If, 20 years into democracy, we are still saying that excellence is white, it’s a problem, not least for the black kids dreaming of donning the green-and-gold.

Obviously, ideally, this should not blow up at World Cup time and should be dealt with on an ongoing basis. But it doesn’t look as if it is.

The men in charge of rugby continue to fiddle while the jersey burns. They are at present fiddling, yet again, with the Currie Cup format. The proposal on the table now seems to be that the Vodacom Cup will be abolished from next year and replaced with an extended Currie Cup.

Saru is not giving out any information but according to an apparently reliable report in Die Burger, from next year there will be 15 teams in the Currie Cup, which will include one from Namibia. In the first half of the year, the 14 unions plus Namibia will play each other in a newly constituted Currie Cup. The top nine will go on to play each other, while the remaining six will battle it out for a lesser title. This means an awful lot of Currie Cup rugby will be played during a protracted Super Rugby tournament.

Our 40-odd rugby schools and the Currie Cup are the bedrock of development in South African rugby. Schools are where rugby talent is developed. The Currie Cup is where promising young players are blooded for Super Rugby. This production line is important for professional rugby as more senior players head off overseas.

In 2012, the Currie Cup was altered to accommodate an extended Super Rugby campaign. Since then, SA’s oldest competition has haemorrhaged viewers and Absa is ending its sponsorship. Won’t more Currie Cup games from second-tier teams competing for viewers with Super Rugby diminish interest further?

More to the point, is this an appropriate use of Saru funds?

In its constitution, adopted in 2009, Saru states as an objective:

•  5.1 applying its income, directly and indirectly, for the promotion, development, support, upliftment, administration and playing of rugby in SA;

•  5.2 pursuing policies and programmes, at national and all other levels, aimed at redressing imbalances of the past and creating a genuinely nonracial, nonpolitical and democratic dispensation for rugby in SA;

•  5.3 adopting and enacting such measures as will foster, promote, regulate and encourage the playing of rugby and provide facilities for rugby in SA, and in any other territory as may be decided upon, for all persons, irrespective of race, colour, creed or gender, and to eliminate any discrimination and inequality among players and officials alike;

If it is to honour its own constitution, should a large chunk of Saru’s millions go into supporting the small-town fiefdoms that run these second-tier teams? Or into paying player squads, most of whom will be white and whose development will have been paid for by the schools mentioned by Mr Hoskins?

What would make more sense is to confine the Currie Cup to the Super Rugby franchises. The small unions should be playing semi-professional rugby, relying on local sponsorship for funds. Saru should be applying its income to funding a development campaign in areas where there is abundant black rugby talent.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to see how the Bok transformation issue is playing out in the political landscape.

The burning of the Springbok jersey accompanied the launch of a new organisation, Supporters Against Racist Rugby Associations, in Mossel Bay. The Western and Eastern Cape are the sites for some of the most closely fought battles between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA). These are also the provinces that host the most black talent and experience the most frustration among black fans.

One of the most thoughtful recent political interventions came from DA shadow spokesman on sport Solly Malatsi. In an oped article, he outlined the importance of a systematic overhaul of rugby development. If the ANC drops the ball, perhaps the DA will pick it up?

• This column first appeared in Business Day

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IN A speech in Durban a few days ago, South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins fingered schools as one of the stumbling blocks to transformation in the Springboks. Saru runs an annual budget of close on a billion rand. All they have to do is channel some of that into the cash-strapped schools […]

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Play now, pay later

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

GLAMOROUS though it might appear, a career in rugby is not the wisest choice. Each year, about 200 boys sign on for the first time with one of the 14 unions. At any one time, there are about 1,000 professional players in the system. At the most, 5% of them will make it into the national team, which means they stand a chance of earning enough to live on and, at the same time, investing enough money to retire on.

Salaries for the vast majority of professional players are low. A junior player contracted to one of the eight smaller unions will earn an average of R100,000 a year. A senior player will earn R200,000. The minority who make it into Super Rugby squads will earn between R700,000 and R800,000. They will earn this amount, if they are lucky, for about 10 years. It will not be enough to provide for them and their families once their rugby-playing days are over.

Most contracts stipulate a 40-hour week: players have to report for work between 8am and 4pm and they get 20 days’ holiday a year. This means it is difficult for them to prepare at the same time for a second career by studying or doing some sort of apprenticeship.

Those who make it to Super Rugby can make it work if they are clever about the opportunities that come their way. They can secure sponsorships and make the contacts which might help them get decent jobs after rugby. Some Premier Division Currie Cup players might also be able to leverage their brand value. But for most Vodacom Cup players, the future is bleak.

This is one of the reasons the professional aspirations of the small unions is so problematic. They don’t do these young men any favours.

There is one glowing exception: the Welkom-based Griffons.

The Griffons are an exceptionally well-managed union. They have thought through their role in an intelligent and realistic way and implemented a strategy which keeps the union solvent, treats their players fairly and produces winning rugby.

The Griffons started life as the Northern Free State Provincial team and were based in the then thriving mining community in Welkom. Club rugby was strong and most mines had their own teams.

Now there are hardly any working mines and their funds come mostly in the form of the R10m annual share of broadcasting revenue from the South Africa Rugby Union.

The Griffons decided about eight years ago that the best way to serve rugby in their region was to position themselves as a development unit.

This meant limiting the amount they spent on professional players and instead instituting an innovative system of semi-professionalism. They allocate less than half their income to professional salaries.

Some of their players have full-time jobs at local firms. Their employers usually deduct the time spent on training and matches but the Griffons pay a monthly retainer and a decent match fee as compensation.

Other players are full-time students. Some play for the University of Free State Varsity Cup team, the Shimlas, and they are loaned to the Griffons for five months.

The Griffons management encourage their players to study. They plan their training schedules around the timetables of the students and those who work for outside firms.

Last year, the union took home the First Division Currie Cup, proving that, despite these restrictions, they are still able to produce winning rugby. They also manage to nurture stars for the bigger stage: both Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez started their professional careers at the Griffons.

Unlike some other unions, the Griffons stay within their budget. For the past six years, the union has broken even, despite the fact that they channel significant funding into the clubs and schools that fall under their jurisdiction. They field several amateur provincial teams, including girls’ under 15s, women’s under 17; provincial under 19s and under 17s.

As a journalist, what impressed me most about the Griffons was their openness. All it took was an email to their CEO, Eugene van Wyk, to elicit a copy of their 2014 financial statements, complete with a detailed breakdown of where every cent goes.

This is despite the fact that Van Wyk is currently in Australasia, touring with the Cheetahs, for whom he acts as team manager.

Instead of trying to compete with the Cheetahs, their local Super Rugby franchise, the Griffons collaborate with them and share resources. It’s eminently sensible and an example that all the small unions should be following.

Semi-professionalism is the way to go for the smaller unions. It means that they can stay within their budgets, provide proper support to amateur rugby in their regions and manage their contracted players properly. And that means ensuring they balance their rugby with preparation for a second career.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
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GLAMOROUS though it might appear, a career in rugby is not the wisest choice. Each year, about 200 boys sign on for the first time with one of the 14 unions. At any one time, there are about 1,000 professional players in the system. At the most, 5% of them will make it into the […]

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Saru must modernise to level the playing field

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

THERE were eight black players in the Western Province team which played the Lions in the Currie Cup final in October last year: six in the starting line-up and another two on the bench. The Lions had three black players in their squad. Western Province beat the Lions 19-16.

This fact is interesting in the light of a statement made to Parliament this week by Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union (Saru).

“In Saru we try to do the right thing,” he said. “I have to look at a white player and say we have to replace you with a black player because of transformation. It’s part of the job, but we will try to maintain a balance between competitiveness and transformation.”

He seemed to be saying that there is a trade-off between competitiveness and transformation and that a white player equals competitiveness and putting a black player in his place is just doing one’s political duty.

I can’t imagine Mr Hoskins, himself a man of colour, really believes this but nevertheless it is the philosophical basis of the policy with which Saru plans to shake up the racial demographics of rugby.

The plan is based on quotas: that is, persuading coaches to put more black players on the field. The subtext is that having more black players on the field might well result in a drop in standards but that this is the price one has to pay for playing rugby in SA.

Just one example of why this is an incorrect assumption is last year’s Currie Cup final.

This equation of whiteness with excellence is not confined to rugby; but rugby is the focus here and what the poverty of Saru’s vision reveals is how outdated is the thinking within it.

The Saru general council is mostly white, largely elderly and all male. As is the tendency with old boys’ clubs, they replicate themselves in subservient structures. White union presidents appoint white CEOs and white coaches who favour white players. It is narrow, self-affirming and exclusive.

In any organisation, it is critical that management reflects the diversity they want to create. It is too easy for a white manager to pick someone who looks and speaks like him, who went to the same school and the same church. He knows which buttons to press to get results.

A black African Springbok described to me how he experienced it: “White coaches trust their own kind. If someone of colour comes along, you have to work three times as hard for them to trust you. If you are a similar race, they will trust you. But for someone of colour, even though your record can speak for itself, you have to prove yourself again and again.”

Even though there was no increase in the number of black Springboks when Peter de Villiers was head coach, the fact that he was not white made a difference.

“Often your coach is a kind of mentor,” said the black Bok. “Someone you can lean on, tell him when you are stressed or whatever. It’s much easier to confide in a black coach than it is to confide in a white coach, because you feel he can relate to what you are saying.

“Some white coaches are good in that they give you the freedom to share what you are feeling but you don’t feel comfortable to share the deep stuff. Because we all struggle to break through to senior levels — both the coach and the players — so we are all going through the same thing.”

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the team which won the Currie Cup with eight black players last year is coached by SA’s only senior coach of colour.

Allister Coetzee has headed the Western Province Currie Cup coaching team for the past eight years and the Super Rugby team for the past six. He is our first and only black Super Rugby coach, an indictment in itself.

Coetzee claims he does not see colour. He simply chooses the best player, regardless of race. There is no doubt this is true.

But I also think that the fact that he is himself of colour gives confidence to black players. Race is still too loaded an issue for it not to affect perceptions of oneself and others, especially in the cauldron of intensely competitive, professional team sports.

If Saru is serious about wanting more black players on the field, they need to stop talk of quotas and focus on modernising themselves. That is where transformation is really needed.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
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THERE were eight black players in the Western Province team which played the Lions in the Currie Cup final in October last year: six in the starting line-up and another two on the bench. The Lions had three black players in their squad. Western Province beat the Lions 19-16. This fact is interesting in the […]

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Empty seats packed with meaning

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

ONE of the overriding images of the pool stages of 2014 Currie Cup — now reaching its climax with semifinals this weekend — is of empty stadiums. Often the rugby played is exciting and SuperSport does its bit with ever-enthusiastic commentary, but there are few takers. These are local teams playing at local stadiums, yet local fans cannot be bothered to get themselves there to watch.

It must be dispiriting for the players on the field witnessed only by the blank gaze of row upon row of empty seats. The most spectacular tries are rewarded only by a smattering of applause, all that can be mustered by the few fans present. The fantasy of legions of fanatically loyal local fans, ostensibly the bedrock of provincial rugby and a major justification for its existence, is exposed as just that. Nor are many watching the Currie Cup on TV — viewing figures are substantially down.

It is hugely expensive to stage these games. Stadiums must be maintained, a phalanx of staff must be paid for on game days including referees, medical teams, ticket collectors, ushers and security guards. Teams must be flown around the country and put up in hotels.

It raises the question: can rugby afford it? And, even if it can, would the millions spent not be better spent elsewhere? The fact that the Premiership Division of the Currie Cup has been extended to buy off small unions so that they would agree to the inclusion of the Southern Kings in Super Rugby (more Currie Cup and more Super Rugby) has not helped matters.

The Currie Cup has historically occupied a special place in the collective heart of the rugby community: during the isolation years, it was the competition that kept local white rugby alive. Provincial unions had to work hard to keep their fan base on board because it was turnstile traffic that kept them financially afloat.

But the professional era — now almost 20 years old — changed all that. The provincial unions now rely on their share of the SuperSport income to keep the game going. There is little incentive to spread the game locally because the money will keep on rolling in, no matter how ineffectual they are.

Crowds at the First Division games — those played in Welkom, Wellington, Potchefstroom, George, Kimberley and East London — are particularly sparse.

One of the arguments used to justify the continued funding of the smaller unions is that they unearth talent that would otherwise go unnoticed. But this happens so seldom — and at such a cost to the rugby fiscus — that it hardly seems worth the outlay. And what this argument ignores is that it is the rugby schools that unearth and nurture rugby talent. The unions just piggyback on it.

The top Currie Cup layer — the Premiership — plays a more viable role because it provides a platform for the blooding of younger players before promotion to Super Rugby.

Serious questions should be asked about the First Division’s viability as a professional league. Although the bottom line  is that no matter how irrational and wasteful the current system is, it will not change because the 14 unions have entrenched their rights in a constitution only they can change.

But reform may yet be forced upon them from within their own ranks. The Super Rugby franchises are growing increasingly frustrated with the current division of spoils. It is the Springbok games that command by far the highest TV audiences. The Springboks’ main base are the Super Rugby franchises they are contracted to and who pay the bulk of their salaries. And this is not insubstantial: top Boks command R4m at some franchises.

The current distribution of the joint South African Rugby Union pot of about R700m does not give the Super Rugby franchises anywhere near enough to meet their financial obligations. Yet their Boks are only available to the franchises for the first half of the year.

This year, for the first time, 20 key Springboks are not available for the Currie Cup play-offs because they are being rested and conditioned for the upcoming November Tests. But if they are injured during the Tests, it is their franchises who will lose out when Super Rugby starts.

Surely those empty seats should constitute some sort of a wake-up call?

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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ONE of the overriding images of the pool stages of 2014 Currie Cup — now reaching its climax with semifinals this weekend — is of empty stadiums. Often the rugby played is exciting and SuperSport does its bit with ever-enthusiastic commentary, but there are few takers. These are local teams playing at local stadiums, yet […]

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Andile Jho says it all for the Kings

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One of the players who ran out for the Madibaz against UCT’s Ikey Tigers in Monday’s night’s Varsity Cup game embodies all the reasons why it was correct to expand the premier division of the Currie Cup to include the Southern Kings.

I first met Andile “Ace” Jho in August 2010: he had just played his last game for Dale College and he was riding high: captain of the first team and, as a consequence, the  hero of KingWilliamstown, his hometown. He’d already been recruited by the Bulls and the following year, he would move to Pretoria to become a professional rugby player.  He assumed that, as long as he worked hard enough, he would make it into the Bulls Super Rugby team and then the Springboks.

Earlier this year, over a coffee in the MacDonalds on the Port Elizabeth beachfront, he filled me in on the past three and a half years.  He had been at the Bulls for two years and it had been a fantastic experience in terms of training, facilities and sheer professionalism, he said. “But I was getting hardly any game time and that made me very unhappy. “ When he finally did get onto the field, it was only for five minutes. “I thought I’d get more the next time but I only got three minutes and it went on like that. Against the Leopards, I got half a game and then a full game against South Western Districts but I really wanted to pit myself against the big boys – the Sharks and Western Province.”

Being away from home for the first time and in an alien environment made it hard to stay positive. “When I got there, I couldn’t speak a word of Afrikaans but there were only three English okes so I told myself I had to learn Afrikaans and by the end of the first year, I could speak it.”  But it was a constant struggle against despair.

Fortuitously, just as his contract at the Bulls ended, things started happening in his home province. In 2013, the Southern Kings got their Super Rugby franchise and, together with SARU, opened a rugby academy in Port Elizabeth, run by former Springbok, Robbi Kempson.  One of Kempson’s first recruits was Ace Jho: “Bringing Ace back was a big thing because he is so revered in the black community,” Kempson told me later.

His judgement on Jho’s experience at the Bulls is blunt: “By the time he was 19, he was discarded. There are so many kids like him at the Bulls, the Sharks, Free State and that is what always happens: if they don’t step up and another kid is better, they are not given the opportunity to play.”

Now just 21, Jho is once again thriving: “I just love the Kings,” he says,” because I can easily go home and my parents can come and watch me. At the end of the day, kids don’t want to leave home. They want to stay here and be close to their families. The reason they go to the Sharks and the Bulls is because there is no Super Rugby team here and they want the exposure. Now many of these guys are coming back.”

Like Zingi Hela, who runs the SARU-Border Academy in East London, Robbi Kempson impresses as a thoughtful and dedicated mentor but Kempson has the advantage of being part of a well-run union with a coherent vision.

The academy is based at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and all his 35 charges have to be registered there for either a degree or a diploma. “We give them all the time they need for studies: gym work is done early and practice is after 4pm. We offer an all-round package: swimming lessons, driving lessons, etiquette, financial and time management.”

The Academy has taken over NMMU’s age group rugby and another Kempson recruit, former Sevens star, Mzwandile Stick, is head coach of the NMMU Young Guns. The top players have dual contracts for Varsity Cup and the Kings. Kempson and Stick work closely with local schools to unearth new talent. Some 95% of the current Academy intake are from the Eastern Cape and 67% are of colour. The aim is to avoid a repetition of the embarrassing sight of the almost all-white team of “hired mercenaries” which comprised the Kings team in their abortive Super Rugby debut last year.  In 2016, when they re-enter Super Rugby, young black players coming up through the system will have had two years’ experience of playing against the country’s best teams in the Currie Cup to get used to the pressures of  top-flight competitive rugby.

Kempson says Jho will “definitely” be in the 2016 team. Jho himself aims even higher: “In two years’ time, I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be wearing green and gold.”

This column first appeared in Business DayAndile Jho IMG_1363

McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok

 

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One of the players who ran out for the Madibaz against UCT’s Ikey Tigers in Monday’s night’s Varsity Cup game embodies all the reasons why it was correct to expand the premier division of the Currie Cup to include the Southern Kings. I first met Andile “Ace” Jho in August 2010: he had just played […]

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We should be playing in Paris, not Perth

News | Non Fiction | South Africa 2 Comments

As our oldest rugby competition, the Currie Cup, reached its climax, tentative steps were being taken towards a brand new one. The broadcast contracts which tie us into the rugby existing menu expire at the end of 2015. A new deal needs to be hammered out, ideally by the end of this year so that work can then start on scheduling early next year.  But it is all still up for grabs, with much furious negotiating under way. One of the options on the table is to renegotiate the deal with our SANZAR partners, Australia and New Zealand. The other is to look north instead where English and French clubs are breaking away to launch a new pan-European championship and would love to add South African teams to the mix.

The advantage of sticking with SANZAR is that it is a known quantity:  we know all the teams involved and what to expect. And it undoubtedly sharpens our skills to play regularly against the world’s top players.

The list of cons is much longer. First is unfairness: South Africa contributes 68% of TV viewers but the vote is split three ways, exacerbated by the fact that Australia and New Zealand tend to gang up together. An example is the whopping great fine – R235,000 – imposed on the Stormers  earlier this year when some of their team members allegedly dissed the ref.  Graham Henry goes on to publicly and indisputably criticize refs and TMOs not once but twice and gets off scot-free.

CEOs of Super Rugby franchises here talk about the additional travel burden imposed on South African teams – the 5-week long tours, 17-hour flights and debilitating jetlag.   TV scheduling suffers from the extreme time difference: how many people can watch a game at 9.35 on a Friday morning? Players hate the protracted Super Rugby schedule, which now drags on from February through to August, interrupted by the June Test window.

Flights are not only very long but also expensive which inhibits the number of travelling fans, as does the limited charms of New Zealand and Australia. A once in a lifetime visit to each is quite enough.

Above all, though, there is a feeling that we need something fresh. The Rugby Championships must stay so that we get to pit our wits against the All Blacks and the Wallabies twice a year but Super Rugby has had its day.

 

Seismic shifts in European rugby have opened up new horizons.  French and English clubs, which operate their own independent domestic leagues, have announced their intention to quit the Heineken Cup because they feel they are disadvantaged by the distribution of tournament revenues and the qualification process.

From next year, England’s Premiership Rugby and France’s Ligue Nationale de Rugby plan to create a new tournament called the Rugby Champions Cup. They would like clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales to join.

And they are particularly keen on South African franchises becoming part of the competition in 2016, when they are free to do so.

The challenges in taking the northern option are sizeable: any new competition would mean getting our heads around a different rugby season. The competition might well have to be played over December and January so as not to clash with the Six Nations.  Qualification to take part might also be an issue: would such a competition be able to accommodate all six of our franchises, given that the Southern Kings must now be included?

But the advantages are numerous: overnight flights for players so that they could nip over for a weekend for games.  Similar time zones mean no jet lag and optimum TV viewing times for all parties.

And, potentially a lot more money.  Now, SuperSport here; Fox in Australia and Sky in New Zealand enjoy monopolies: rugby must take what it is offered.  In Europe,  it is far more competitive,  with a much bigger pool of broadcasters competing for rights, which will inevitably drive up revenue.  Much richer economies should yield more generous sponsorship fees.

Cheaper, shorter flights and closer cultural ties might well swell the ranks of travelling fans.  Not to mention the many South African players now playing for French and English clubs, another major plus.

And it is new and different, which makes it exciting: imagine the Bulls squaring up to their old team-mate, Bakkies Botha, at Toulon?  The Stormers taking on Bath, whose captain is their old team-mate, Francois Louw?  The Sharks against Clermont? The chance to share new experiences – of different approaches to the game and different team cultures?  And how much more interesting to go regularly  to Paris, London or Toulon, after years and years of Auckland and Sydney?

It seems to me a no-brainer, all things being equal.

 

**This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As our oldest rugby competition, the Currie Cup, reached its climax, tentative steps were being taken towards a brand new one. The broadcast contracts which tie us into the rugby existing menu expire at the end of 2015. A new deal needs to be hammered out, ideally by the end of this year so that […]

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