JOHANNESBURG – It may have only been contested over eight rounds, including the semi-finals and final (this weekend), but the 2019 Currie Cup competition has again delivered.
The final will be between the Free State Cheetahs and the Lions - the teams that finished the round-robin phase in first and second place, suggesting the two best teams have progressed to the final, as it should be.
In a competition of only seven teams, played over six rounds, one’s got to wonder why it was even necessary to have the semi-finals.
Anyway, there has been plenty of talk in recent years about the validity of the Currie Cup and when you look at the small crowds, at most venues, and the number of genuine unknowns in action, the many people suggesting it best to scrap the competition would be tough to argue with.
Yet, with just the final to be contested it is perhaps also right to look at the positives to have come out of the competition - as is the case year in and year out.
In the absence of the World Cup Springboks and several other seasoned campaigners who opted to play on short-term deals in Europe and Japan until next year’s Super Rugby competition, young stars out to impress got the chance to show what they can do - and perhaps even performed so well that they’ll now be considered to play Super Rugby next year.
Others - many of whom hail from non-franchise unions, like Griquas - may have advanced their reputations so much that they’ll get bigger and better offers to join other unions and franchises.
If it weren’t for the Currie Cup, the Pro 14 side the Free State Cheetahs would have almost been forgotten, like they generally are outside of their province when Super Rugby is underway. And players like the hugely impressive Joseph Dweba wouldn’t have been talked about as much as has been the case in the last few weeks. The 23-year-old hooker is this country’s most impressive non-Springbok right now and how he hasn’t been a part of a Bok squad yet is quite unbelievable.
Ox Nche, in the last few weeks, has again shown just what a quality prop forward he is, and if it weren’t for the Currie Cup, he, like Dweba, would have been lost to the general South African rugby watcher.
In the Lions team, several players have grabbed their chance - men like Tyrone Green, Madosh Tambwe, Wandisile Simelane, Shaun Reynolds, Ruben Schoeman, Pieter Jansen and most spectacularly wing Stean Pienaar. None of them have been Super Rugby regulars, but they may all taste plenty of action in 2020.
A number of Griquas players also caught the eye and made the Currie Cup count for them. Here we think of utility back Anthony Volmink and flyhalf George Whitehead who must surely warrant a place in the Cheetahs Pro 14 side, or even in a Super Rugby outfit.
Griquas’ outgoing coach Brent Janse van Rensburg’s reputation as one of this country’s most exciting young rugby minds was also hugely enhanced in the Currie Cup - so much so that he’ll be working with the Sharks next season.
It is a World Cup year and the Currie Cup has had to take something of a back seat. Even so, it has produced some great rugby, close matches that have gone down to the dying seconds, and a bunch of new stars.
The Currie Cup is a competition loved by South Africans and if the shortened 2019 version taught us anything it is that it has a definite place in the local rugby calendar and must remain.