Wed 20 Jan 2021 | 03:36

How the Semi-finalists dominated Currie Cup over the years

How the Semi-finalists dominated Currie Cup over the years
Wed 20 Jan 2021 | 03:36
How the Semi-finalists dominated Currie Cup over the years
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STAT ATTACK: Renowned rugby writer Wim van der Berg takes a look at how this weekend’s Currie Cup semi-finalist have dominated the tournament over the years.

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Much as one felt for the Cheetahs when their 2020/21 Currie Cup dream ended through a last-minute penalty 12 days ago, the history of the Currie Cup competition reflects that Saturday’s semi-finalists are fittingly also the top four winners of the 82 Currie Cup titles since 1892.

In fact, the two leaders of the Currie Cup’s 82 competitions, the Bulls and Western Province, also top the 2020/21 Currie Cup standings. They will battle it out on their home turf on Saturday to secure a place in the final on January 30.

These two teams also have the best semi-finals record, with WP edging the Bulls 27-24 in semi-final appearances but with the Bulls ahead on home ground stats. They have won 10 from 12 home semi-finals compared to WP’s 10 from 16.

However, not too much should be read into semi-final appearances and wins over the years due to the haphazard way in which semi-finals were determined.

Semi-final formats

Many formats were tried over the years since 1954 when a semi-final was used for the first time and being in a semi-final was not always a special achievement. In fact, the system over the years resulted in a certain amount of confusion.

Paul Dobson, doyen of SA rugby writers who passed away last year, set out the ways in which semi-finals could be reached as follows:

In 1973 there were four sections and so two semi-finals.

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In 1979 the 12 Currie Cup teams were divided into two sections. Section A was made up of strong teams, Section B of weaker teams but the best of the weaker teams played semi-finals against the best of the Section A teams, with a remarkable result in 1984. (Free State had already received their allocation of tickets for the final and had to rush them to Durban on the Monday after Wynand Claassen’s B Section Natal side had beaten them. Natal then lost the final to Western Province at Newlands.)

In 1986, as in 1979, there were two sections, A and B, but only a single semi-final – between the second-placed side in the A section and the top of the B Section.

Then the semis were scrapped and 1 played 2 in the Final.

In 1996 the number of provinces was reduced to 14 and they all competed in two sections. This led to quarterfinals and then semi-finals.

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In 1998 there was a league system in which the top four teams qualified for the semi-finals in which 1 played 4 and 2 played 3.

In 2003, the Rugby World Cup year, there were no semi-finals.

In 2005 there were two sections and two semi-finals. The top two teams in each section played each other in the semi-finals.

In 2006, as now, the teams were divided in two sections, the premier Division and First Division, but teams from the First Division had no chance at all of competing for the Currie Cup which suggests some kind of misnomer but instead the semi-finals came from the Premier Division – 1 v 4 and 2 v 3.

The past does not determine the future in sport, but for the record: one of the Bulls two semi-final losses at home was against this weekend’s adversary Transvaal (now the Lions) in 1996, the other against WP (in 2015).

Dominating the Currie Cup

The Currie Cup competition was initially dominated by Western Province in the early years (1892-1936) when they won 16 (including two shared with Border) of the first 19 titles.

However, the undisputed top team in the competition since their founding in 1938 is Northern Transvaal that became the Blue Bulls in 1996.

Since they first competed for the trophy in 1939, the Bulls (previously Northern Transvaal) have won 23 of the 63 competitions. (This includes four shared titles, two with Western Province and once each with Transvaal/Lions and OFS/Cheetahs)

The Bulls’ 23 titles are five more than Western Province’s 18 Currie Cup titles (two shared) since 1938.

The first Currie Cup tournament was in 1892, the first Final in 1939 and the first semi-final in 1969.

The competition was a rather on-off affair since the Currie Cup was played for from 1892 onwards. It wasn’t an annual tournament and there was no future planning and little structure about where and when future centralised tournaments were to take place.

The league format (with only four teams taking part in 1892 and 1899) used a single venue for the first 11 competitions with Bloemfontein and Kimberley co-hosting the 1920 tournament.

In 1922, exactly 30 years after the first title went to WP in 1892, the central tournament idea was shelved, with more trains and rail options to the major centres making a home and away system in 1922 possible, followed by a first double round in 1924.

Transvaal won their first title, decided on a league basis, in 1922 (and interestingly, they also won the very first final, in 1939 against WP at Newlands, for their second title).

It took decades for an annual competition to be established. After years of occasional tournaments, dominated by Western Province, South Africa’s premiere provincial highlight kicked off in earnest in 1969 and has since been played annually.

But back to the records:

There have been 82 Currie Cup competitions since 1892.

The winners, including the draws, were:
34 WP (twice shared with Northern Transvaal, twice with Border)
23 Northern Transvaal/Bulls (since 1938) (twice shared with WP, once each with Transvaal/Lions and OFS/Cheetahs)
11 Transvaal (once shared with Northern Transvaal/Bulls)
8 Natal/Sharks
6 Free State (one shares with Bulls)
3 Griquas
2 Border (both shared, 1934 and 1936 with Western Province)

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