American rugby coach PHIL TERRIGNO, who completed a coaching and management apprenticeship with Griquas last year, says Currie Cup teams would benefit from an internship programme.
As an avid reader of SA Rugby magazine, even all the way from the United States, there was one headline in particular that was painful to read when it was published online in October: Currie Cup has lost its lustre.
The piece thoroughly examined the struggles the competition is enduring and even outlines some ways in which it could regain traction with the South African sporting public.
I think there’s another way to improve the brand’s reach and impact around the globe: by looking outward to emerging rugby nations, the Currie Cup teams — and those First Division unions, in particular — can bring attention to themselves, share their resources and benefit from international partnerships.
This is based on my experience in both American rugby and our struggles with player development as a tier-two nation, and my time spent with Griquas as a coaching and management apprentice in 2018 with then-coach Peter Engledow (now coaching at Paarl Boys’) and his staff.
Formalising a ‘Currie Cup internship’
By formalising a ‘Currie Cup internship,’ the unions could bring young international players and university students into their setup for a defined period of time (one month, two months, etc).
The players (who are also university students or recent graduates) would train with the team and perform a ‘business’ component of their internship for the union in their field of study (communications, marketing, athletic training, teaching, etc). This could include doing social media for the senior team, assisting the amateur development staff, film analysis, etc.
The Currie Cup First Division teams would be the best place to pilot this programme, which could also extend to men or women who want to work in the game in a variety of capacities: coach education, referee, medical, marketing, etc.
The Currie Cup is iconic and its level of play is fast and brutal. It’s time to share its standard with the rest of the world.
How would this work?
Take a burgeoning rugby player at a university in the United States, for example. The player is finished with the academic year in early May and will not resume until late August. During that time, there are practically no options for that player to play fifteens during the American summer when the country transitions to sevens.
Those three months cover a lot of ground when the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and Currie Cup are taking place.
After applying to the programme and being selected by one of the unions, the player would travel to South Africa for the agreed-upon time.
There doesn’t have to be an expectation that the player will represent the team in a Currie Cup match, but it is not out of the question if they perform well in the training environment.
The players coming to their internship would incur the flight costs, which can be paid for by their home clubs or teams if they cannot pay for it themselves.
Once on the ground in South Africa, the unions could use their networks to help the interns out with accommodations (via their supporters’ club, etc). The unions could give the interns a stipend if it is financially feasible for them to do so, but unpaid internships are acceptable at American universities, since the students get course credits.
The unions would have to be open to change and new ideas. If a marketing intern suggests a new idea to generate revenue (example: making sure the team had a functioning online merchandise store) or new business, the union management should be open to considering new ways of problem-solving.
American university students cannot be paid as professional players and then return to represent their university (this stems from the concept of amateurism in American university sport). So the paid players would have to be recent graduates. But the unpaid players could play for clubs. This would be less of a factor for players from other countries.
By the numbers
The internships could take place in two sessions: May-June and June-July, or some variation of that. If each First Division team brought on three interns per session, that’s 42 international interns over the course of one season.
It would be 42 people who return to their respective countries wearing kit from the Eagles or Cavaliers, talking about their experience and encouraging others to apply to the programme.
How would the Currie Cup sides benefit?
This is not immediately making the unions rich, but it is making them thought leaders in global rugby and giving them exposure.
Similarly, there is a tangible benefit here. If coaches from the Currie Cup unions want to go abroad to do their own fact-finding or coach education, they now have immediate access to universities and structures around the globe because of a relationship that was just cultivated.
Emerging rugby nations — the United States, Canada, Germany, Georgia, etc — will continue to send their players and coaches abroad to further their development and education.
South Africa can position itself to be the premier destination for them.
– Terrigno is a lecturer at Fordham University in New York. He is an assistant rugby coach at Army West Point and the head coach of Rugby United New York’s U20 side in Major League Rugby. In 2018, he completed a coaching and management apprenticeship with Griquas.