CAPE TOWN – There can be no doubt that the Currie Cup is nothing like it used to be.
The domestic competition has become a predominantly developmental tournament and a period for the Springboks to catch a break between the Rugby Championship and end-of-year tour, while Super Rugby stars head abroad to cash in during short-term playing spells.
So, with few “big names” to add vigour and act as drawing cards for the South African rugby public, it’s probably no surprise that stadium seats look the way they do (just think of an embarrassingly empty Kings Park Stadium for the semi-final between the Sharks and Golden Lions, while just over 18 000 seats were occupied at Newlands).
The single-round format that was introduced this year also didn’t help the world’s oldest provincial competition lure numbers back to stadia. In fact, it has probably only made matters worse. Teams need to play each other home and away.
It’s a proper assessment of a team’s character and form, both home and away. And while the single-round format certainly upped the pressure as there was no time to slowly get into the swing of things, did it in any way improve the competition?
One thing that should certainly have done its share in adding more spice to the “dead” competition, however, is the epic that played out at Newlands in the semi between Western Province and the Blue Bulls.
If SA Rugby wanted an advertisement promoting the “aliveness” of the Currie Cup, that game would have been it. Hands down.
And it was much-needed to stir some excitement and anticipation ahead of the Newlands final between WP and the Sharks.
After all, up until kickoff at Newlands on Saturday, Province’s scintillating 2018 form had made the match against their rivals seem like a mere formality to WP getting into their home final and ultimately lifting the Cup again.
And after six huge bonus-point wins - after having outscored, outsmarted and simply outplayed every single team they’d encountered and also having humiliated the Bulls at Loftus two weeks ago - who can blame the Newlands Faithful for getting ahead of themselves?
And as much as that thriller was needed for the overall reputation of the Currie Cup and to hype up the final (if ever you needed an example of “anything can happen”, that north-south derby was almost it), then that game delivered. And it would have also done a lot for WP.
After experiencing the kind of season the unstoppable streeptruie have had, their scare against the Bulls should have done enough to prevent any complacency from creeping in. It would have done enough to highlight the nature of finals rugby. And it would have done enough to perhaps place the defending champions in a better place mentally to retain the trophy than what they were say, a week ago.
It would be a stretch to say that WP’s A-rated thriller against the Bulls single-handedly did enough to make the Currie Cup great again, but it certainly showed that it can still produce great battles.
And it might have also equipped WP with the edge they need to perfectly cap off their season.