Western Province (WP) –as the oldest and biggest province in the early years- dominated the CC competition during the founding years.
The Currie Cup made its appearance in 1891 after it was awarded to Griqualand-West (GLW) by W.E Maclagan the captain of a British team touring South Africa for best performance by a South African team against them.
The Griqualand-West rugby union gave the cup to the South African rugby union with the understanding that it will used as trophy for a provincial rugby competition. This resulted in the first Currie Cup tournament being played in 1892. Teams were invited to play in the tournament which was held at one place. The final of the first tournament was contested between Western Province (WP) and Griqualand-West. Province won.
The next tournament was in 1894 housed at Nuweland in Cape Town with the same two teams reaching the final. The GLW team won all their matches on route to the final while WP drew a match against Transvaal making GWL the favorites. Thanks to an excellent forward pack the GLW team dominated play in the first half and scored one try under the posts and another one next to the post. Unable to convert these tries GLW were leading 6-0 at half time. No matter what they tried WP could not breach the GLW defense or succeed with a penalty in the second half. In desperation Heatlie the WP captain handed the ball to one of the wingers Tom Hepburn with instruction to kick for poles when awarded a penalty with only 10 minutes left on the clock. Hepburn succeeded with this impossible kick right from the touchline taking the score to 6-3.
Pinned down in their 25 in the last 8 minutes WP had no change of scoring with GLW controlling the ball and constantly on the attack. Biddy Anderson one of WP centers then kicked the ball into the pavilion with the aim of creating time to talk to his captain. In those days the ball had to be found before the game could proceed and Anderson explained to Heatlie that he needs to come and help with defense in the back line in order to create a man over so that they could try for an interception. Heatlie wasn’t keen on this idea with the Province forwards getting murdered upfront as it was but Anderson persisted. The third time GLW played the ball down their backline Percy Jones intercepted and ran 75 meters for the winning try under the post.
In the launching years the Cup was not contested on a yearly basis and in the 47 years from 1892 to 1939 there were 20 finals of which WP won 16.
Tabel 1: Currie Cup winners from 1892 to 1939
Western Province and Border
Western Province and Border
Griqualand-West won the Cup in 1899 and again in 1911 with Province winning all the other tournaments. In 1922 Transvaal took the Cup to Johannesburg for the first time in history.
Transvaal played in 1895 for the first time in a Currie Cup final but lost against WP. They reached the final again in 1897 losing once again against WP but won it 1922, 1939, 1950 and 1952. In the 1952 final Transvaal played against Boland and won with a Natie Rens dropgoal in the last minute.
Natie Rens who broke the hearts of the Boland players and supporters by slotting a dropgoal in the last minute of the 1952 final.
It didn’t take WP long to get the Cup back in Cape Town after they lost it to Transvaal in 1922 and in 1925 another decade of WP dominance started when Province win the Cup yet again with players like Phil Mostert, Gerry Brand, Jackie Tindall, Pierre de Villiers, George Daniel and the legendary Bennie Osler on flyhalf. Osler dominated in particular the 1927 season when he scored 81 points in 9 matches. The WP victories over Transvaal and Natal, in that year, were in essence accomplished because of the geniality and kicking ability of Osler.
Bennie Osler who dominated provincial rugby in SA from 1925 to 1936.
Border shared the Cup with WP in 1932 and 1934.
Transvaal won the last tournament before the Second World War in 1939.
After Second World War a new giant in SA provincial rugby namely Northern Transvaal appeared on the scène and they won the first Currie Cup competition after World War II in 1946 in a classic encounter against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld. In the first minute Con de Kock the WP No15 succeeded with a 75 meter penalty and after Bubbles Koch (lock) and Jack Vos (hooker) scored tries as well for province it looked like the Cup would once again go to the Cape.
Bubbles Koch scoring a spectacular try in the 1946 final.
Patient like a predator and tactically astute like Napoleon, the future general of South African rugby, Hanie Brewis, were reading the match as it progressed, identifying weaknesses and scoring opportunities. Late in the second half he took control. Starting with two brilliant dropgoals -one with the left and one with the right foot- he had Northern Transvaal right back in the game; the score suddenly 8-9. The referee confirmed it to be the last move of the game when Brewis put into action his last desperate stratagem. Signaling to Johnny Lourens on the wing to chase hard he hoisted a long kick downfield on receiving the ball in the hope that his wing would get there first. Con de Kock the WP fullback was first at the ball but instead of catching it he tried to toe it over the touchline. A disastrous decision as the bounce of the ball fooled him and he missed it completely with his kick; the next moment Lourens scored the winning try.
Hansie Brewis who appeared on the scene in spectacular fashion during the 1946 Currie Cup final.
Province was back in 1947 winning 16-12 against Transvaal in a final that is considered by old-timers as the best Currie Cup final of all time. The highlight of this match a try by Otto van Niekerk in ‘Otto’s corner’ – the right hand corner in front of the main pavilion.
Otto van Niekerk on his way to ‘Otto’s corner’ in the 1947 Currie Cup final against Transvaal.
Province was back in the final in 1950 but lost against Transvaal signifying that the power in SA rugby has shifted to the North. In the next 6 years (1950 to 1956) WP won the Cup only once namely in 1954 but in extreme controversial circumstances. The referee Ralph Burmeister denied NTVL a try by François Roux after a break by Tom van Vollenhoven. Roux still maintains that Chum Ochse did not tackle him before the try line and that he didn’t lose the ball an opinion shared by the majority of the spectators. This try and subsequent easy conversion would have given a victory of 13-11 to Transvaal instead of losing 8-11.
During the next decade no finals were played; the team topping the log receiving the Currie Cup with Western Province receiving the Cup in the years 1957 to 1959 as well as in 1964 and 1966. It was during these years that Jannie Engelbrecht scored his two tries against NTVL with a broken collar bone.
Jannie Engelbrecht running in for one of his two tries with a broken collar bone against NTVL.
In the next decade 1968 to 1978 WP didn’t won the cup once but did play in two finals namely in the legendary Frik du Preez final in 1969 and against Free state in 1976. Frik lost his place in the Springbok team earlier that year (1969) and in the final he conquered WP almost man alone with a try, two gigantic line kicks, a drop goal and a penalty.
Frik du Preez who won the 1969 Currie Cup for NTVL by scoring a try, succeeding with a drop kick and a penalty. He also slotted two fantastic line kicks.
The 1976 final is in my book probably the worst final I’ve had the privilege of witnessing Western Province play. Province was annihilated by the Free State who won the Cup for the first time in their history.
Theuns Stofberg and Morné du Plessis during the 1976 final. The interesting thing about Theuns Stofberg is that he won the Currie Cup in a Free State, Northern Transvaal and Western Province jersey.
Western Province’s only taste of the Currie Cup during the entire decade of the seventies came in 1979 when they drew the final with NTVL 15-15; a match in which they couldn’t score any points in the second half. Naas Botha kicked two brilliant dropgoals in the 5th and 37th minutes of the second half. It was after this match that Morné du Plessis made his famous remark that sharing the Cup is like kissing your sister.
Western Province and Northern Transvaal Teams who played in the 1979 final.
Western Province had a golden era during the eighties and won the Cup from 1982 to 1986 five times in a row. This was the time of the Du Plessis brothers, Hennie Bekker, De Villiers Visser, Rob Louw, Hempies du Toit, Divan Serfontein, Theuns Stofberg, Nick Mallet and so forth. My personal favorite was the 1982 final; the only time that all three the du Plessis bothers namely Willie, Carel and Michael played together in a final with both Carel and Michael scoring tries.
Michael du Plessis scoring in the 1982 Currie Cup final.
In the decade 1987 to 1997 Province played in three finals winning only in 1997. In 1988 they lost with a single point against NTVL and in 1989 (exactly 10 years since their previous draw with NTVL in 1979) they shared the cup again with NTVL.
Western Province’s last two Currie Cup wins were in 2000 and 2001. Their last final was in 2010 when they lost against the Sharks.