One Small Voice

2008-10-24 00:00

Welcome to the day when, throughout South Africa and around the world, a venerable old lady takes out her smartest shoes and her best dress, slaps on the make-up and steps out to enjoy what has become her annual day in the spotlight.

The Currie Cup was once the premier tournament in the SA sporting calendar, six months of magnificently competitive rugby between wonderfully powerful provincial teams often thrilling capacity crowds in majestic stadiums. It was, as players, officials, supporters and journalists used to chorus during the dark years of political isolation, beyond doubt the strongest domestic rugby in the whole world.

Different memories linger in different minds.

Can it really be 28 years since the Blue Bulls stampeded over Western Province at Loftus Versfeld and the mountainous Moaner van Heerden actually burst out laughing as he jogged back to the halfway line after scoring the try that ensured the cherished trophy would remain in Pretoria?

Is it 23 seasons since Naas Botha returned from a two-year sabbatical with the Dallas Cowboys in American football and led Northern Transvaal to a Currie Cup final at Newlands, where destiny appeared to have decreed the greatest match-winner in the history of rugby would prevent WP from winning a fourth title in a row … only for the Bulls to lose, and the blond flyhalf to be punched by a fan as he left the field?

Was it as long ago as 1986 that the peerless Jannie Breedt led Transvaal to Cape Town, in search of a first title in 12 years, only to be denied by Goggie van Heerden’s swallow dive under the posts?

Surely it is not 21 years since the unforgettable final when the rain and gloom enveloped Ellis Park, when it finally seemed inevitable that the Vaal team built by Dr Louis Luyt (Kruger, Rogers, Venter, Badenhorst, Skinner, Pieterse, Bartmann, Breedt, Robbie, Naude, Pretorius, Michael du Plessis, Van As, Carel du Plessis and Kirkham) would finally get their hands on the Currie Cup … only for them to be denied when Naas definitively proved he was Baas by kicking four penalties and four dropgoals in a 24-18 victory?

Is it 18 years since Craig Jamieson took his widely dismissed Natal team to play the final in Pretoria, and Tony Watson burst down the wing, and Loftus fell silent in disbelief, and the Durban side celebrated their first title in 100 years?

Tasked to write the Business Day match preview to that Currie Cup final in 1990, I remember quoting the Billy Joel song and suggesting that “these are the days to remember because they will not last forever”; even then, with a return to international competition beckoning, it seemed the power and glory of domestic Currie Cup rugby in isolation would soon be diluted by more exotic and worldly offerings.

In part, so it has proved.

What started three years later as the Super 10, and then became the Super 12, and then became the Super 14 (and now, if the television moguls get their way, will become a Super 18) has put the Currie Cup largely in the shade to a point where major unions openly describe it as a “developmental competition”. Crowds at some matches have declined to levels that would have seemed unimaginable two decades ago.

Yet, defiantly, magnificently, once a year, this marvellous old lady of South African sport somehow manages to emerge again, and demand attention and hold millions of South Africans in her thrall.

Today is Currie Cup final day, and it still feels special. It still feels different, and the electric atmosphere at King’s Park when the Sharks play the Bulls today will certainly rank alongside anything at Newlands in 1985, Ellis Park in 1987, or Loftus in 1990.

Throughout South Africa, in every street of every town, and now in many far-flung parts of the world, in the packed pubs of south-west London, the sunny cafes of Perth, the hotel bars of Dubai and elsewhere, wherever the scatterlings of Africa have settled, people will gather around television screens and watch the final, and be delighted and thrilled … and conclude that maybe, after all, these Currie Cup days will last forever.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author and former CEO of SA Rugby.

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