The Vodacom Bulls’ victory in the Currie Cup final provided a familiar feeling, but for different reasons, writes former Sharks captain STEFAN TERBLANCHE in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
Naas Botha famously once said that you don’t win the Currie Cup in May. As it turns out, he was 100% correct, apparently you win the title in January. Congratulations to the Bulls, players, management and their thousands of loyal and staunch supporters all over the country.
For a formidable franchise like the Bulls, 12 years is a long time without any silverware and to finally get the monkey off their back must be a great relief.
It takes me back to 2008 and facing the Bulls in the Currie Cup final at the home of Sharks rugby. After the great success of the 1990s and the rise of Sharks rugby – there was also a name change, under much protest from fans and supporters, from Natal to the Sharks in that period – the ‘Piesangboere’ had last won the Currie Cup in 1996.
Similarly, it had been 12 years since the last silverware could be placed in the trophy cabinet in Durban when we hosted the Bulls at a packed Kings Park.
We were facing the mighty Bulls at their best and in arguably the best era of Bulls rugby in recent history. During this period between 2007 and 2010, they won Super Rugby three times and the Currie Cup in 2009.
The likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana were not only the best players in their positions at the time in the world but also some of the best to wear the Bulls jersey.
The pressure was immense and we carried the hopes and dreams of the long-suffering Sharks supporters on our shoulders even though the Bulls were the firm favourites going into the game. Apart from playing the perfect game on the day, Frans Steyn caught Bryan Habana on the angle for an early try-saving tackle.
With expectation on the Bulls, it seemed the pressure actually got to them as they were matched blow for blow by a very impressive Sharks pack, while we managed to come out on top in the aerial game.
Fast forward 12 years, and Covid-19 has changed the whole outlook on life, and how everything will be done and viewed. The same can be said about rugby. Playing a Currie Cup final in January with no one watching on the hostile eastern stand at Loftus is something no one would have ever imagined in their wildest dreams.
For the first time in a very long time I watched a full 80 minutes and an extra bonus of an added 20 minutes during the Currie Cup final. The quality of the rugby was not the greatest, for obviously reasons, but I was paying more attention to the Bulls and the weight of expectations on their mostly young shoulders.
Like in 2008 we were well aware of what was at stake and I could sense that same tension in the Bulls at Loftus. No disrespect to my beloved Sharks (I actually had them down to win by seven points), but from a rugby point of view they should never have even been so close to beating the Bulls in that final.
Pressure and expectation is part and parcel of professional sport. It will make some and it will break some. And as we saw in the title decider, it came so very close to derailing the Bulls and depriving them of a desperate and much-needed win.
Did they deserve to win the game after extra time? Absolutely! And after that, I do expect a lot more from this Bulls team who could possibly be heading into another glory era for the franchise.