SA’s United Rugby Championship (URC) franchises are likely to go into the new year facing an uncertain playing schedule in the cross-continental competition.
Travel restrictions due to rising Covid-19 infection rates have caused the country to be red-listed, and the January 7 or 8 resumption for SA’s teams in the URC appears in danger of being pushed back.
Officials last weekend lamented the uncertainty and the protracted time players may have to spend on the sidelines. The launch of the Currie Cup in the second week of January, may thus prove a lifeline not just to shake the post-Christmas excess, but to sharpen skills and minds should there be a delay in SA teams’ return to the URC.
Though dates are yet to be confirmed, it is anticipated the Currie Cup will kick off on January 14.
The competition has an earlier slot as SA rugby aligns with the demands of its international commitments in the URC. Players are contracted in an annual cycle from July 1 to June 30.
The Currie Cup could prove, certainly in the initial stages, a welcome outlet for franchise coaches.
The dangers of a long break between matches were all too apparent last weekend when SA sides had to resort to playing derbies. The Stormers in particular struggled to rid themselves of cobwebs.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for guys who need rugby. You could see some of our guys who came on against the Lions probably need some more rugby,” said Stormers coach John Dobson in the wake of his team’s defeat at Cape Town Stadium last weekend.
There are early indications the Currie Cup will be an increased interest next season with seasoned coach Gert Smal installed as the Blue Bulls’ mentor.
The Lions have also nailed their colours to the mast with Mzwakhe Nkosi graduating from his success with the under-20 team to fronting the Currie Cup side.
The Stormers will also have to name a frontman for their Currie Cup exploits but Dobson was not yet in a position to do so.
“If the URC runs as normal and the Currie Cup starts it will definitely be a different coaching staff but I’m not the one to make that announcement,” he said.
It is, of course hoped, that SA’s URC franchises will return to action in the early part of January. SA’s franchises are supposed to resume their duties on January 7 with the Lions away to Leinster, while the Sharks will be at Benetton, the Bulls at Zebre and the Stormers at Connacht the next day.
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