Bulls: Diddled by the Cape Doctor!

Manie Libbok (Gallo Images)
Manie Libbok (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - For much of the season in the oval-ball game at Newlands, the Western Cape’s famous southeaster isn’t generally the “rugby wind”.

Or put it this way: it certainly wasn’t before Super Rugby came along (suddenly encroaching a lot more on late summer, a time of year when the Cape Doctor is still capable of howling with some intensity and draping Table Mountain in its much-photographed tablecloth).

Avid rugby-watchers in these parts will be the first to point out that the wind at the height of the rugby season is more customarily the northwester, the often unforgiving, biting blast that brings on cold fronts, frequently enough with accompanying intense, driving rain. 

But the southeaster, which stirs in early spring and then sticks around for months, has always been a factor at Newlands towards the end of the season, which remains relatively unchanged calendar-wise as the domestic rugby roster comes to its orthodox climax in October.

Veteran Newlands observers will also be acutely aware that it has an uncanny knack, around this time of year, of having the last-gasp, decisive say in knockout-phase Currie Cup matches between Western Province and the Blue Bulls (or former Northern Transvaal).

The Cape Doctor, in truth, has been kind to both teams at pivotal moments historically in the great rivalry … although on Saturday you might argue with some justification that its influence got heavy favourites WP off the hook in an unexpectedly ding-dong semi-final against the fiercely motivated men from the Highveld.

Wonderfully competitive throughout the nail-biter, these unsung Bulls gave everything they’d got against the side who had ripped their way imperiously through the “league” phase of the competition, winning every match with a full house of log points.

Even the most partisan of WP fans (and they can certainly be that) could hardly have begrudged the Bulls a stunning triumph had outside centre Dylan Sage’s try after the hooter near the right corner flag been converted by previously dead-eye - and broadly very influential - flyhalf Manie Libbok.

Sage’s dot-down brought the scores level to 32-32, and television images showed exhausted captain Hanro Liebenberg and several other Bulls players - quite overcome by the tension - looking the other way as Libbok lined up what would have been a game-clinching kick.

The pivot’s body language looked decent enough (why wouldn’t it, given his sterling earlier efforts?) as he approached the ball, and the television images did plenty to suggest that, initially, it was headed on a trajectory taking it promisingly inside the right-hand upright.

But as it sailed closer to the posts, it veered away, banana-like, significantly … almost certainly influenced either by a strong direct gust or the effect the south-easter has in creating swirling, lotto-like conditions within the stadium.

On a day when the wind blew to gale force in many parts of the Cape Peninsula, you could say it breathed salvational life into John Dobson’s charges: extra time was forced, and the home team duly landed a penalty through their own metronomic factor, SP Marais, to settle the fixture at 35-32 and tee up a second successive showpiece next Saturday against the Sharks - this time at Newlands after Province’s away triumph in 2017.

There was certainly a healthy “get out of jail” element to the WP victory, as they had been outdone 4-2 in the try column, but that is sport for you and the two almost indisputably best teams over the course of ordinary season now go head to head in the final.

But Libbok’s anguish off the tee - his “what might have been” moment - wasn’t the first time the early-summer southeaster has played a sly old hand in influencing late-stage Currie Cup outcomes between WP and the Bulls at the old, now threatened venue.

The final of 1989 is a classic case in point: in the days before extra time entered the equation, and the trophy was simply shared if the showpiece was drawn, WP’s No 10 Riaan Gous had the opportunity, with the sands at the top of the glass almost emptied, to win the Cup outright with a difficult conversion of Carel du Plessis’s try (which had brought the game to 16-16) from wide on the left and toward the Jan Pickard Stand.

He thumped the ball convincingly and seemingly accurately … but again a blast of the Cape Doctor pushed his kick wide at a late stage of its flight and we got the “kissing your sister”, split outcome.

Then there’s the equally pulsating, rather more Springbok-laden semi-final of 2009, when the Bulls were at the peak of their powers, including two recent Super Rugby titles (2007 and that year) beneath their belts and a raft of senior internationals in their ranks like Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana and Fourie du Preez.

WP had played out of their skins, and were leading 19-18 against the favoured visitors when, after only six personal minutes on the park, highly unpredictable substitute wing Sireli Naqelevuki, the behemoth Fijian, chose a bad time to leak a penalty in the 77th minute.

But it was a fair distance out from the posts and, with an unfavourable angle and the south-easter in front of him to contend with, Bulls kicking ace Morne Steyn didn’t seem favoured to get over a seventh penalty on the trot from his hitherto unerring right boot.

Benefiting from an agreeably benign moment, however, Steyn goaled the kick to break home-town hearts … the final score was 21-19 and the Bulls went on to beat the Cheetahs in the final.

The Cape Doctor? Manie Libbok, like so many others before him, simply knows now that you just cannot predetermine what it prescribes for you …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
46% - 4053 votes
11% - 997 votes
18% - 1598 votes
2% - 181 votes
1% - 78 votes
2% - 184 votes
5% - 448 votes
8% - 688 votes
3% - 287 votes
Water sports
1% - 66 votes
American sports
1% - 69 votes
3% - 230 votes