Vodacom Bulls coach Gert Smal says SA rugby bosses must consider shelving the “devalued” Currie Cup after Griquas romped to a convincing win in the semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
Smal complained that the Bulls’ back-to-back title defence was heavily affected this season by constant squad disruptions due to players “coming in and out” while competing in the Currie Cup and Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
Griquas stunned the defending champions with a huge second-half performance to claim a famous 30-19 semi-final victory in Pretoria and reach the decider in the competition for the first time in 52 years.
But, the men from Kimberley faced a youthful Bulls side missing a host of stars, who will contest the URC final against the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
Over the course of the Currie Cup, Bulls director of rugby Jake White bolstered Smal’s match-day squads with the likes of standout No 8 Elrigh Louw and skipper Marcell Coetzee, but they featured less – or not at all – as the URC playoffs drew nearer.
Also, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Reinhardt Ludwig and Jan-Hendrik Wessels, who travelled to Ireland to face Leinster in the URC semi-final last week, only arrived back to training four days before facing Griquas.
Speaking post-match on Friday, a frustrated Smal said he couldn’t build any cohesion or selection continuity in 2022, and suggested the other leading unions also struggled to field stronger teams in the sport’s oldest tournament.
The two-time Currie Cup-winning coach said: “It was a very challenging week with the URC team that only came back on Monday, and some of the guys were stuck in Frankfurt and only arrived back here on Tuesday, and we could only put a team together on Tuesday.
“So, it’s a massive challenge to get the team going and get some simple plan in place to see that the players are comfortable with the way we want to play. We really try our best to make the Currie Cup as prestigious as possible and try and get a [team] combination to respect the Currie Cup.
“Whoever is going to make the calls in future, if it goes on like this … I think we’re the only big union that’s got so far – Sharks, WP, Lions are all not here.
“There’s a lot of guys putting sweat and tears into winning it. If we devalue the Currie Cup and don’t respect the times and don’t play our best players there, then we must rather put the Currie Cup in a glass box in a museum or something and just call it the Vodacom Cup or something else, if that’s the case.
“If it’s getting devalued in a certain way then one must look at it, but that’s not my problem, that’s not my job, that’s for people up there to make the decisions. You can see what happened to all the bigger provinces – there’s just not enough depth.”
On Friday, it looked like the Bulls might bounce back against Griquas when Bernard van der Linde scored a try that cut the deficit to nine points with eight minutes remaining, but their hopes were dashed when Stephan Smit was sin-binned following a penalty try.
Smal added: “We weren’t good enough on the day. We didn’t play enough together to build momentum and get some rhythm, and that was the challenge of the competition. We just tried our best to put a kind of game together with the players available and the time available to prepare.
“Griquas played good rugby and were a threat to all opposition, and I wish them good luck for the final. They can build that momentum because they’ve been together the whole year, and that’s the beauty of keeping a team together.
“Don’t want to make excuses, it’s the nature of the competition, but we had players coming in and out all the time and it was difficult to get good combinations together.”