The Currie Cup certainly builds to a crescendo. Last weekend there were over 45,000 people in noisy Newlands, and they will be back this weekend when for the second year in a row contest the semifinals at the same venues, just a slightly altered arrangement of opponents.
There have not always been semis, but then there have not always been finals.
The Currie Cup system was frequently the plaything of administrators and changed from year to year, as it keeps on doing. In the beginning there were centralised tournaments, then leagues of various kinds and then for the first time a final in 1939. The next final was in 1969. The first semifinal in 1969 and what a dramatic match it was!
In the list of semifinals below, you will find years when there was just one semifinal. In those years the Currie Cup teams were divided into three sections which meant that two of the section winners had to play off for a place in the final.
In 1973 there were four sections and so two semifinals.
In 1979 the 12 Currie Cup teams were divided into two sections. Section A was made up of strong teams, Section B of weaker teams but the best of the weaker teams played semifinals against the best of the Section A teams, with a remarkable result in 1984. In that year the Free State had already received their allocation of tickets for the final and had to rush them to Durban on the Monday after Wynand Claassen’s B-Section Natal side had beaten them.
In 1986 there were two sections, A and B, but only a single semifinal – between the second-placed side in the A section and the top of the B Section.
Then the semis were scrapped and 1 played 2 in the final.
In 1996 the number of provinces was reduced to 14 and they all competed in two sections. This led to quarterfinals and then semifinals.
In 1998 there was a league system in which the top four teams qualified for the semifinals in which 1 played 4 and 2 played 3.
In 2003, the Rugby World Cup year, there were no semifinals.
In 2005 there were two sections and two semifinals. The top two teams in each section played each other in the semifinals.
In 2006 the teams were divided in two sections but Division 1, called the Currie Cup, had no chance at all of competing for the Currie Cup which suggests some kind of misnomer but instead the semifinals came from the Premier Division – 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3. That situation obtains still in 2010.
There was a change in determining home venues. It used to go by age or previous matches. It changed so that position on the log determined home venues as it would for the final as well. That system continues in 2010.
That means this year that there are three possible venues for the final:
- If the Sharks beat the Blue Bulls, the final will be in Durban.
- If the Sharks lose and the Blue Bulls win, the final will be at Newlands.
- If the Sharks and the Western Province lose, the final will be in Bloemfontein.
- Only Pretoria is sure of not having a Currie Cup Final in 2010 – apart from Johannesburg, Kimberley, Potchefstroom and Witbank, that is.
The semifinals are often forgotten affairs but the first one was one of the most memorable matches at Newlands since World War II.
That day Boland, captained by Dawie de Villiers were leading 11-3, after climbing into Western Province in the loose. Pietman Basson and Pierre Ackerman had scored tries, Ackerman’s off an intercept followed by a thrilling 70-metre run.
The man who made the difference was the great, unique HO de Villiers, fullback for Western Province. He started running and it changed the game. He converted a try by Preston Robertson and then came into the line on the left of a scrum just inside Boland’s half. He made an overlap for speedster Andy van der Watt who scored in the left corner. From touch, HO converted and the final whistle went. People charged onto the ground, as they were allowed to do in those friendly days, and swamped HO the Hero.
Mind you the semifinals in 2009 were pretty dramatic affairs as wellwhen both the winning semifinalists were playing away from hoime.
Here are the appearances of the four teams in the 2010 semifinals:
Blue Bulls (a.k.a. Northern Transvaal): 16 semifinals, won 14
Free State Cheetahs (a.k.a. Orange Free State): 15 semifinals – won 7
Sharks (a.k.a. Natal): 16 semifinals – won 6
Western Province 17 semifinals – won 12
Natal vs Orange Free State, 35-20 in Durban
Transvaal vs Northern Transvaal, 31-21 in Pretoria
Western Province vs Gauteng Lions, 38-18 at Newlands
Free State Cheetahs vs Natal, 40-22 in Durban
Western Province vs Griqualand West, 24-11 in Kimberley
Blue Bulls vs Natal, 31-17 in Pretoria
Natal vs Free State, 45-17 in Durban
Lions vs South Western Districts Eagles, 81-21 in George
Natal vs Free State Cheetahs, 29-15 in Durban
Western Province vs Golden Lions, 43-22 at Newlands
Natal vs Golden Lions, 16-9 in Durban
Western Province vs Free State Cheetahs, 40-18 at Newlands
Blue Bulls vs Natal, 22-19 in Durban
Golden Lions vs Free State Cheetahs, 43-29 in Bloemfontein
Blue Bulls vs Golden Lions, 40-33 in Pretoria
Free State Cheetahs vs Western Province 17-11 at Newlands
Blue Bulls vs Golden Lions, 31-23 in Pretoria
Free State Cheetahs vs Western Province, 16-11 at Newlands
Free State Cheetahs vs Sharks, 30-14 in Bloemfontein
Blue Bulls vs Western Province, 45-30 in Pretoria
Free State Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls, 11-6 in Bloemfontein
Golden Lions vs Sharks, 19-12 in Durban
Blue Bulls vs Free State Cheetahs, 31-19 in Pretoria
Sharks vs Golden Lions, 29-14 in Durban
Free State Cheetahs vs Sharks, 23-21 in Durban
Blue Bulls vs Western Province, 21-19 at Newlands
Sharks vs Blue Bulls in Durban
Western Province vs Free State Cheetahs at Newlands