Steeped in history and tradition, the Currie Cup dates back to 1889 and is one of the oldest rugby competitions in the world. The tournament is regarded as the cornerstone of South Africa’s rugby heritage, and the coveted gold trophy remains the most prestigious prize in South African domestic rugby.
The competition had its humble beginnings as an inter-town competition in 1884, but when the South African Rugby Board was founded in 1889 it decided to organise a national competition that would involve representative teams from all the major unions. The participating unions were Western Province, Griqualand West, Transvaal and Eastern Province. The first tournament was held in Kimberley and was won by Western Province. As prize they received a silver cup donated by the South African Rugby Board, now displayed at the SA Rugby Museum in Cape Town.
While local unions battled for the Currie Cup from 1892 onwards it would take decades for an annual competition to be established. After years of occasional tournaments, dominated by Western Province, South Africa’s premiere provincial spectacle kicked off in earnest in 1968. That year the Blue Bulls of Northern Transvaal, spearheaded by the legendary lock Frik du Preez, trampled neighbours Transvaal 16-3 in the final, heralding a period of overall dominance that has seen the men from Pretoria win the Currie Cup 16 times and share it on three occasions. This outstanding record is in no small part down to the most influential player to ever star in the competition – fly-half extraordinaire Naas Botha. Dictating play with supreme tactical awareness throughout a career that spanned three decades, Botha single-handedly kicked teams into submission, scoring all the Blue Bulls’ points (including four drop-goals) in 1987 as Transvaal were beaten 24-18 in the final.
Since the Currie Cup became an annual competition only one team has seriously challenged the Bulls’ supremacy – arch rivals Western Province. Wild parties broke out all over Cape Town when Western Province thrashed Northern Transvaal 24-7 in the 1982 final to kick-start their own golden age. Currie Cup heroes like Faffa Knoetze, Calla Scholtz and steam-rolling wing Neil Burger ensured that the trophy remained in the shadow of Table Mountain for a further four years before again heading north.
At the turn of the decade South African supporters were treated to two of the most memorable Currie Cup finals. In 1989 winger Carel du Plessis scored a last-minute try as WP managed to draw with the Blue Bulls 16-all. The following year most people believed Northern Transvaal just needed to turn up to beat Natal. The Banana Boys made sure the Blue Bulls slipped up, though, as they sneaked home 18-12, inspired by fly-half Joel Stransky. The 1990s saw further improvement by Natal and the rise of Francois Pienaar’s Transvaal.
The Currie Cup Trophy
When the first overseas team to tour South Africa stepped ashore in 1891 they carried with them a particularly precious bit of cargo. Among the bags, boots and balls was a golden cup given to the British Isles squad by Sir Donald Currie, owner of Union-Castle Lines, the shipping company that transported them to the southern tip of Africa. The gold trophy was donated by Sir Donald Currie in 1891 before the arrival of the touring British Isles team. Sir Donald was clear with his instructions – hand this trophy over to the team in South Africa that gives you the best game and after a spirited display, Griqualand West became the first ever holders of the Currie Cup. To this day the trophy remains the holy grail of South African rugby. They then donated the trophy to the rugby board, and it became the prize for the Currie Cup competition. The inaugural Currie Cup tournament was held in 1892 with Western Province as the first winners.