If the Eastern Province Kings are going to play Super Rugby from 2016, it’s in the best interests of South African rugby to have them playing in the Currie Cup Premier Division.
After the proposal to expand the Currie Cup to eight teams in 2014 was withdrawn before being put to vote at a SARU Special General Council Meeting last Friday, it appeared as though the status quo of six teams in the top flight will remain for next season.
However, new reports on Tuesday suggested that the Kings may gain automatic promotion in what could still be an eight-team Currie Cup in 2014.
That would be the right call in my book.
While I’m all for playing yourself into a position where you gain automatic qualification – something the Kings sadly have not done in recent years – I do believe they should be playing at least some sort of top flight rugby.
It’s no secret that the men from PE will be added to an expanded Super Rugby competition from 2016, when a new TV broadcast deal comes into effect, so the sooner they start playing at a higher level, the better for South African rugby as a whole.
They did relatively well in their debut Super Rugby season this year but were relegated when the Lions pipped them in a promotion-relegation series.
They then failed to finish top of the First Division standings as a rampant Pumas side forced their way into the Currie Cup.
The Kings hardly boast a track record for a team that deserves any favours, but perhaps SARU should look back into the past when a fairly similar “tricky” situation played itself out.
Natal – as the Sharks were then known – were another of the so-called big unions struggling to get out the B-section in the mid-1980s. They would win the B-section only to lose promotion-relegation matches against Northern Free State on a few occasions.
The then SA Rugby Board (SARB) was eager to see Natal play in the top division and decided to expand the six-team Currie Cup to eight to allow them automatic entry.
SARB wanted a major city like Durban to have a team in the A-Section, as they realised South African rugby would benefit having Natal there.
Since 1987 the Natalians have not dropped out of the top flight and when they stunned Northern Transvaal at Loftus to win the Currie Cup for the first time in their history in 1990 – it signalled the start of a golden era for rugby in the region.
Just imagine where the Sharks would have been today if they weren’t added to the Currie Cup back then? The brand name Sharks would probably not have existed and they’d still be called the Banana Boys!
For that reason I think it’s wise for the powers that be to look at South African rugby as a whole and realise that having six strong franchises is better than five. The last thing SARU wants is for the Kings to still be playing B-section rugby over the next few years before being added to the Super Rugby mix.
Therefore, getting the Kings up to a better level – at least Currie Cup level – would surely be of benefit to South African rugby…