The prospect of a domestic competition taking priority once again is something to celebrate, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE.
A lot has been said about the Currie Cup competition in recent years and how it has become a watered-down product. But just maybe, as a result of Covid-19 and the ever-changing face of rugby across the world, it’s time to revisit a firm favourite of South African rugby and to rekindle some neighbourly love.
It’s been exciting to hear that a strengthened domestic competition will kick off soon, and this could remain the only option if travel restrictions continue into 2021. All this talk has got me reflecting on my best memories of the Currie Cup, as a player and rugby lover.
Born in the 1970s – jeez, I’m getting old – and watching my first real Test match, I can recall waking up with my dad at 3am, and that was about as good as it could get for a rugby-mad six-year-old. The excitement and privilege of watching international rugby didn’t last long, though, as international sanctions were imposed on South Africa during the apartheid era. For me, playing Test match rugby for my beloved Boks was only a pipe dream at that stage.
During this time South Africa produced some of the most incredible rugby players in the world – the likes of Danie Gerber, Naas Botha, Ray Mordt, Errol Tobias and Rob Louw come to mind.
It was an absolute travesty to see these greats miss out on extended opportunities to play international rugby but, my goodness, did it make for a world-class domestic competition – adding many a great battle and history to the oldest domestic competition in the world: the Currie Cup.
As a kid growing up in Swellendam I lived for weekends. First thing on Saturday mornings we would be off to the rugby field to face the visiting neigbouring town for a classic derby. Playing in the early morning with the grass still covered in icy frost, and your toes only ‘defrosting’ around midday, was the highlight of my week. Working my way up through the teams, it wasn’t long before I was playing in the main game around 12pm and the whole town gathered around the pitch to watch the pride and joy of our little town when the 1st XV ran out.
When the ref signalled the end of the game with a shrill blow on his whistle, though, it was by no means the end, but merely the beginning as we had one long afternoon of rugby ahead of us. We would either be off to watch Swellendam Town play at 3pm or tuning into TopSport to watch Currie Cup rugby.
Those games were absolutely incredible and to experience Western Province take on Northern Transvaal was a brutal affair, to say the least, while the free-flowing running rugby played by the Orange Free State was our impression of what watching a French international team would have been like.
For any team going to play Eastern Province at the Boet Erasmus stadium with the two mascots dressed in rugby jerseys, shorts and elephant slippers welcoming you on to the thick grass was a rough ride for even the top teams. The Boet was a graveyard for many a top team, particularly with Adri Geldenhuys, Pote Human and the late Frans Erasmus making sure that even if you won the game, you would still have a very sore body the next day.
As a youngster I loved every minute of every game and knew the names and positions of each player running out on to the pitch. The Currie Cup used to be the only rugby we knew and we would impersonate all the great players in our backyards long after sunset, the rugby ball barely visible in the fading light and our parents braaing away as they relived the highlights of the day’s play.
When the Sharks won the Currie Cup in 2008 after a 12-year long silverware drought all these memories came back, and with a packed Kings Park stadium behind us it was everything I dreamed of as a kid. In 2010 I had the privilege of captaining the Sharks and again the dream came alive when lifting the cup.
It’s memories like this that will last a lifetime, and I, for one, can only be excited by the prospect of seeing a full-strength domestic competition once again taking priority.
*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!
*Terblanche is a former Springbok who earned 37 Test caps. He is now the CEO of the SA Rugby Legends Association and served as a member of World Rugby’s judicial committee at the 2019 World Cup.