Currie Cup

The Currie Cup is dead? Far from it!

2018-10-22 18:00
Ali Vermaak (left) and Bongi Mbonambi (Gallo).
Ali Vermaak (left) and Bongi Mbonambi (Gallo).

Cape Town - With a shortened format in operation this year, questions have been raised over the significance of the Currie Cup in South African rugby. 

The Springboks have been absent for most of the competition, while each of the seven sides played just six matches in the group stages with four of them qualifying for the semi-finals. 

With Super Rugby, PRO14 and the lure of overseas currency all at play, South Africa's oldest domestic competition has faced threats of extinction for a while now. 

SA Rugby's decision to shorten the 2018 edition was met with heavy criticism in some circles, with a 'well, what's the point?' a common reaction. 

One of the results of 'watering down' the Currie Cup, however, has been that almost all of the group games in regular season have carried significance. 

There have been few, if any, dead rubbers and that is something that the players themselves have applauded. 

In looking for ways to back the current format, it didn't hurt that Newlands dished up one of the great fixtures in the tournament's history this past weekend. 

The Blue Bulls, given no chance against a firing Western Province, came within an inch of stunning the tournament favourites and booking their place in the final. 

The look on the face of Blue Bulls captain Hanro Liebenberg when flyhalf Manie Libbok was lining up a conversion to win the game said it all. 

Liebenberg, a naturally passionate leader, couldn't watch. With his back to the action, he looked skywards and asked for some divine intervention. It didn't come. The kick went wide, the Blue Bulls lost and there was as much agony as there was celebration. 

But that raw emotion is precisely what the paying customer wants, and the fact that the Currie Cup was able to deliver in two months what Super Rugby couldn't in over five suggests that this tournament is still very much alive. 

Just ask the players.

"You could see the emotion on the bench and the sideline and in every single player and management member that was there," Province fullback Dillyn Leyds said on Monday, reflecting on the historic 35-32 win against the Bulls.

"Obviously a lot has been said about the Currie Cup and the way it has gone on. We’re just thankful that people still want to turn up to Newlands and watch us play.

"We’ve done ourselves proud up until now to play this type of rugby and draw the crowds back to Newlands and hopefully this weekend we will see an even bigger crowd.

"I think the guys took a lot of energy from the crowd in those last 20 minutes of extra time, so I think all is good and well with Currie Cup rugby."

Another member of that winning side, Ruhan Nel, owes much to the Currie Cup. 

The 27-year-old is one of the latest to make the move from the Blitzboks to 15-man rugby. For some, like Seabelo Senatla, it hasn't been an easy transition. 

But, thanks to being backed by coach John Dobson, Nel has used the Currie Cup to put his hand up for higher honours. Ahead of the home Rugby Championship Tests against Australia and New Zealand, Nel was a part of the Springbok squad. 

He didn't get on the park, but Dobson has "no doubt" that Nel will be a Bok one day.

"The Currie Cup is definitely special, this year more than ever," Nel said on Monday.

"People have been saying that the Currie Cup is dead and it’s going downhill, but looking back at my journey this year, this is where coach Rassie saw something special in me.

"It’s a platform that I was given and through that I made the best of an opportunity I got for higher honours. I could easily have been in the matchday 23 for Australia or New Zealand, so you never know.

"It just goes to show that the right eyes are watching you in the Currie Cup and I’m testament to that."

The Bok squad for the northern hemisphere tour next month will be named after Saturday's final between WP and the Sharks at Newlands. 

As is always the case, there will be men out on that field who, somewhere in the back of their minds, are looking to book a plane ticket to Newlands. 

It is the way it should be. 

The future of the tournament remains uncertain, but a Currie Cup final week is still a Currie Cup final week, and with it comes all of the raw emotion that Super Rugby has failed to dish up in recent times. 

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