Troubled heavyweights trying to focus on Currie Cup success
The 81st staging of the Currie Cup since 1892 will kick-off in Durban on Friday night in front of a smattering of support as the Old Lady of tournaments tries to remain relevant in the modern world.
The Sharks‚ who can barely raise a 5000 crowd in Super Rugby these days‚ host the Griquas in the opening fixture of the seven-team competition.
As 2019 is a Rugby World Cup year the Currie Cup is further diluted to a single round of matches this season‚ which in a way‚ might be a boost for the tournament.
With every match like a knockout‚ the stakes will be high from the word go as one home loss could be a massive blow.
The defending champion Sharks‚ are under a new coaching team led by Sean Everitt against the backdrop of a union teetering on the brink of economic distress.
After years of financial losses the Sharks are about to undergo another senior management overhaul with Chief Executive Gary Teichmann stepping down after three years and senior coach Robert du Preez expected to be sidelined in the coming weeks.
“We don’t have a long time to get these guys up to speed‚ but everyone will be familiar with the style of play and I’m confident they can handle themselves well‚” Everitt said.
“We want to play an expansive style of rugby‚ not 10 man rugby.
"There was an improvement on attack under (assistant coach) David Williams in Super Rugby and we’d like to continue with that approach.
“With the youngsters we have coming in‚ they’re going to be required to play that brand of rugby. We’re not going to change anything‚ but we would like to tweak a few things and certainly improve on performances.
“I have a good relationship with the youngsters and we’ve become quite a tight-knit group over the last few years so I think they will be comfortable. That relationship is built on the trust between us‚ which will make life easier for them.
“What’s also important is for the senior players to build relationships with them too‚ which will help us and assist the younger guys on the training field and in the games. Having some of the juniors involved in the Super Rugby campaign‚ whether they played or not‚ the feedback from them has been positive.”
The Sharks are not alone when it comes to off field problems going into the Currie Cup though.
Saturday sees John Dobson and his Western Province host the Blue Bulls at Newlands. It wasn’t until Investec stepped in to bail WP out in late June that the union was able too send out contract offers to players.
Once again the Cape side’s on field performances will play out against a backdrop of boardroom ineptitude as finances and the ability to pay staff remains a lingering problem.
Like Everitt‚ Dobson is just trying to focus on the business of coaching his team while trying to push all the other distractions aside as best he can.
Currently nine Boks aren’t available for WP while others such as centres EW Viljoen and JJ Engelbrecht left the union after the dallying over contract offers. More players might follow suit in the coming weeks too.
Sticking to the script of ‘all’s well at WP’ Dobson said: "The competition format means that we have to hit the ground running next week and the players and management cannot wait to get stuck in this season
"There will always be high expectations for WP in the Currie Cup‚ which is something we embrace and value.”