Currie Cup could be South Africa's main event on the 2020 rugby calendar Sharks flank James Venter scored two tries in a losing cause in last year's final He says now, more than ever, it is important for rugby players to consider their futures outside of the game
This weekend was due to be the final round of regular season fixtures in Super Rugby 2020, but with the tournament still suspended, it is now almost certainly over for the year from a South African perspective.
New Zealand are due to kick off their Super Rugby Aotearoa on June 13, but in South Africa there are no indications that professional rugby will be resuming any time soon.
Non-contact professional sport will be allowed when the country moves into Level 3 of its national coronavirus lockdown on June 1, but what that means for rugby is still not clear.
SA Rugby continues to engage with government in an effort to secure a return to play in some capacity, but it is now looking increasingly likely that an extended Currie Cup tournament - perhaps as late in the year as October - will be the next rugby action on South African soil.
While the lockdown itself is the major issue standing in the way of a return to play, the other is that South Africa's unions and franchises would effectively need a full pre-season of conditioning to get their players match ready for any competition.
One man who has some unfinished business with the Currie Cup and who would welcome the opportunity for that tournament to be the main event on the South African rugby calendar this year is Sharks flank James Venter .
Born and bred on KwaZulu-Natal's south coast, Venter was snapped up by the Lions after school but, at the end of 2019, he penned a deal to return to Durban and the Sharks ahead of the 2020 Super Rugby season.
He says it was always his dream to return to "the black and white" of the Sharks and he was in sublime form throughout the opening seven rounds of Super Rugby fixtures, where the Durbanites were top of both the South African conference and the combined log before the tournament was suspended at the end of March.
It has contributed towards a breakthrough year for the specialist fetcher, but he was already making waves towards the end of 2019.
In last year's Currie Cup final, the Free State Cheetahs emerged 31-28 winners against the Golden Lions in Bloemfontein with Venter scoring two tries for the visitors in a losing cause.
He looks back fondly on that day despite the result, and speaking to Sport24 this week the 23-year-old acknowledged that the Currie Cup was a special tournament to him and that it would be worthy of serving as the main event on the South African rugby calendar this year.
"I've always been a massive fan of the Currie Cup since I was a 'laaitie' (youngster). For me, it's a competition that should encompass all of the domestic sides in South Africa," Venter said.
"If we can get the whole of South Africa watching and all eyes on one tournament, even if it is some kind of extended Currie Cup towards the end of this year, I think it will help to unite the rugby supporters out there.
"It would be great to get the focus on our brand of rugby - the South African brand of rugby - which is really good. Hopefully that is in the mix and something that can get signed off."
Venter added that the lockdown period had forced rugby players in the country into a period of introspection.
"I think this lockdown gave a lot of rugby players a good understanding that life after rugby is real," he said.
"It's opened a lot of eyes and made a lot of guys understand that they've got to focus on something post-rugby."