Cape Town - For much of the season in the oval-ball game at
Newlands, the Western Cape’s famous southeaster isn’t generally the “rugby
Or put it this way: it certainly wasn’t before Super Rugby
came along (suddenly encroaching a lot more on late summer, a time of year when
the Cape Doctor is still capable of howling with some intensity and draping Table
Mountain in its much-photographed tablecloth).
Avid rugby-watchers in these parts will be the first to
point out that the wind at the height of the rugby season is more customarily
the northwester, the often unforgiving, biting blast that brings on cold
fronts, frequently enough with accompanying intense, driving rain.
But the southeaster, which stirs in early spring and then
sticks around for months, has always been a factor at Newlands towards the end
of the season, which remains relatively unchanged calendar-wise as the domestic
rugby roster comes to its orthodox climax in October.
Veteran Newlands observers will also be acutely aware that
it has an uncanny knack, around this time of year, of having the last-gasp, decisive
say in knockout-phase Currie Cup matches between Western Province and the Blue
Bulls (or former Northern Transvaal).
The Cape Doctor, in truth, has been kind to both teams at
pivotal moments historically in the great rivalry … although on Saturday you
might argue with some justification that its influence got heavy favourites WP
off the hook in an unexpectedly ding-dong semi-final against the fiercely
motivated men from the Highveld.
Wonderfully competitive throughout the nail-biter, these
unsung Bulls gave everything they’d got against the side who had ripped their
way imperiously through the “league” phase of the competition, winning every
match with a full house of log points.
Even the most partisan of WP fans (and they can certainly be
that) could hardly have begrudged the Bulls a stunning triumph had outside
centre Dylan Sage’s try after the hooter near the right corner flag been
converted by previously dead-eye - and broadly very influential - flyhalf Manie
Sage’s dot-down brought the scores level to 32-32, and
television images showed exhausted captain Hanro Liebenberg and several other
Bulls players - quite overcome by the tension - looking the other way as Libbok
lined up what would have been a game-clinching kick.
The pivot’s body language looked decent enough (why wouldn’t
it, given his sterling earlier efforts?) as he approached the ball, and the
television images did plenty to suggest that, initially, it was headed on a
trajectory taking it promisingly inside the right-hand upright.
But as it sailed closer to the posts, it veered away,
banana-like, significantly … almost certainly influenced either by a strong
direct gust or the effect the south-easter has in creating swirling, lotto-like
conditions within the stadium.
On a day when the wind blew to gale force in many parts of
the Cape Peninsula, you could say it breathed salvational life into John
Dobson’s charges: extra time was forced, and the home team duly landed a
penalty through their own metronomic factor, SP Marais, to settle the fixture
at 35-32 and tee up a second successive showpiece next Saturday against the
Sharks - this time at Newlands after Province’s away triumph in 2017.
There was certainly a healthy “get out of jail” element to
the WP victory, as they had been outdone 4-2 in the try column, but that is
sport for you and the two almost indisputably best teams over the course of
ordinary season now go head to head in the final.
But Libbok’s anguish off the tee - his “what might have
been” moment - wasn’t the first time the early-summer southeaster has played a
sly old hand in influencing late-stage Currie Cup outcomes between WP and the
Bulls at the old, now threatened venue.
The final of 1989 is a classic case in point: in the days
before extra time entered the equation, and the trophy was simply shared if the
showpiece was drawn, WP’s No 10 Riaan Gous had the opportunity, with the sands
at the top of the glass almost emptied, to win the Cup outright with a
difficult conversion of Carel du Plessis’s try (which had brought the game to
16-16) from wide on the left and toward the Jan Pickard Stand.
He thumped the ball convincingly and seemingly accurately …
but again a blast of the Cape Doctor pushed his kick wide at a late stage of
its flight and we got the “kissing your sister”, split outcome.
Then there’s the equally pulsating, rather more
Springbok-laden semi-final of 2009, when the Bulls were at the peak of their
powers, including two recent Super Rugby titles (2007 and that year) beneath
their belts and a raft of senior internationals in their ranks like Victor
Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana and Fourie du Preez.
WP had played out of their skins, and were leading 19-18
against the favoured visitors when, after only six personal minutes on the
park, highly unpredictable substitute wing Sireli Naqelevuki, the behemoth
Fijian, chose a bad time to leak a penalty in the 77th minute.
But it was a fair distance out from the posts and, with an unfavourable
angle and the south-easter in front of him to contend with, Bulls kicking ace
Morne Steyn didn’t seem favoured to get over a seventh penalty on the trot from
his hitherto unerring right boot.
Benefiting from an agreeably benign moment, however, Steyn
goaled the kick to break home-town hearts … the final score was 21-19 and the
Bulls went on to beat the Cheetahs in the final.
The Cape Doctor? Manie Libbok, like so many others before
him, simply knows now that you just cannot predetermine what it prescribes for
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