Curry Cup History

North west of Pitlochry in the Scottish Highlands is the village of Fortingal.

In the village churchyard is an ancient yew tree which dates back to before Pontius Pilate and is reputed to be the oldest living vegetation in Europe.

Under the yew tree is the grave of Donald Currie, the founder of Fortingal.

Donald Currie was born in Glasgow, the third son of a Greenock barber. He left school at the age of 14 and went to work in the counting house of a sugar firm, called McFie.

He later joined his brother James in Liverpool at the Cunard Shipping Line.

Moving up rapidly in the shipping world, he formed his own steamship company called Donald Currie & Co in 1862.

In 1872, Donald Currie introduced his steamers to the Cape Town run as the Castle Line. On 8 March 1900, he joined with the Union Line to form the famous Union-Castle Line. He was knighted in 1881 and in 1887 came to South Africa for the first time.

When the first foreign cricket team came to South Africa the following year, Sir Donald gave the captain, Major Warton, a cup to present to the team that played best against the tourists, with the intention that it become a floating trophy for inter-provincial competitions. This was the first Currie Cup.

Sir Donald Currie died in Sidmouth, Devon, on 13 April 1909 and was buried in Fortingall in Perthshire, a tiny town which he had built. A special memorial service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral in honour of Sir Donald Currie.

History of 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.

The Currie Cup trophy was donated to the rugby board and it became the prize for the Currie Cup competition. To this day the trophy remains the holy grail of South African rugby.

History of the Currie Cup Tournament

The Currie Cup tournament (also known as the ABSA Currie Cup for sponsorship reasons) is South Africa’s premier domestic rugby union competition, played each winter and spring (June to October), featuring teams representing either entire provinces or substantial regions within provinces. Although it is the premier domestic competition, South African teams also compete in the international Super Rugby competition.

Steeped in history and tradition, the ABSA Currie Cup dates back to 1889 and is the oldest provincial rugby competition 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 organize 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 during 1892 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.

From when the Currie Cup became an annual competition until the mid-1980s only one team had seriously challenged the supremacy of the Western Province rugby club — arch rivals Northern Transvaal, also known as the “Blue Bulls”. 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, Riaan Gouws missed the conversion which would have given Western Province its 6th title of the decade a feat which has never been achieved.

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 but, from the moment the Springboks were allowed back into international rugby in 1992, the significance of the Currie Cup steadily started to diminish.

These days the competition lags well behind the Super 15 and Rugby Championship (previously the Tri-Nations) in the order of importance for most of South Africa’s top players.

In 2005, Free State won the Currie cup for the first time in 29 years. The Bulls came on a runners up, but nevertheless proved their worthiness in the Super 12.

Credits and links

Paul Dobson

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