The 2021 Currie Cup Final – A Breeding Ground for Missionaries?
By Mike Burnard
At last, a Christian perspective on something that does not involve a virus or American politics; the 2021 Rugby Currie Cup final
On Saturday 30 January, the South African domestic rugby season will come to an epic end with a clash between the two top teams, the Blue Bulls from Pretoria and the Sharks from Kwa Zulu Natal. This clash will not have the same flair and extravagance as the Super Bowl of American football (which in 2020 was viewed by 103,4 million people) or the following and fanaticism as the Premier Football League in the UK (which is watched annually by about 70% of the UK population), but it is still the pinnacle of the South African Rugby season and has been so since 1892.
The final of the 2020-21 Currie Cup Season will however bear no resemblance to any final that has gone before.
- Firstly, it will not happen in the usual cold temperatures of winter but it will be played in the brutal summer temperatures of the high 20’s with the prospect of January thunderstorms.
- Secondly, the stadium will be empty. COVID-19 couldn’t stop the game from taking place, but it will prevent the crowds from attending the game and cheering for their teams.
- But most of all, the game will bring brief relief to a COVID fatigue nation. For the past 11 months, nearly every news-bite or social media post contained a trace of the virus. Life as we knew it came to a complete stop and moments like these, all be it for only two hours, restores a little bit of sanity in an upside-down season
But wait, there’s more!
It might be of value to expand our peripheral vision a little bit wider on Saturday and look outside the point of our fixation, i.e. away from just another rugby match. Could sport be a vessel for God to impact a nation, or even nations? To what extent can athletes – sportsmen and women – be “witnesses” in an environment where platforms of influence are created within the arenas of competition.
On 23 January News 24 reported that an English coach, Sale Sharks director of rugby, Alex Sanderson, explained why South African rugby players are in such high demand in England and Europe.
Sanderson started with the obvious, physical, reason but then moved to a surprising spiritual conclusion. Yes, first of all, Sanderson confessed that it’s the size and physique of South African rugby players that make them so desirable for overseas clubs. They are physically big and intimidating. That helps, although obviously, that’s not the only reason.
“They are very polite, which is always nice.” Sanderson continued. “They are easily coachable. You can push them in ways that you can push people who have been brought in the public schools or academy systems in this country, so the transition of them coming to South Africa from England, it’s not like you have to adapt your coaching methodology,” Sanderson added.
But then Sanderson concluded with a surprising comment: “South African players at the club fit in so well because they are very spiritual and religious and so they understand buying into a higher purpose, something that transcends a workplace or an accolade. And if you can get a big guy who’s motivated with a sense of higher purpose then you’ve got a bit of a warrior haven’t you?” said Anderson.
What a wonderful testimony to our “rugby missionaries” in the “unreached” world of sport.
There are currently 60 South Africa rugby players in the UK (4 full teams), 30 in France (2 full teams), and 25 in Japan (nearly two teams)
CURRIE CUP TRIVIA
The final on 30 January 2021 will be 82nd edition of the top tier of the Currie Cup. Since the competition became established as an annual competition in 1968 the following teams won the cup (Statistics from Wikipedia).
- Team Number of wins
- Northern Transvaal/Blue Bulls 21, 4 shared
- Western Province 13, 2 shared
- Natal/Sharks 8
- Transvaal/Golden Lions 7, 1 shared
- Free State Cheetahs 6, 1 shared
- Griqualand West/Griquas, 1
RECORDS AND STATISTICS
- Most career matches: 156 – Jacques Botes (Pumas/Sharks 2002–2014)
- Most career points: 1,699 – Naas Botha (Northern Transvaal) 1977–1992
- Most career tries: 74 – John Daniels (Golden Lions/Boland Cavaliers)
- Most individual points in a season: 268 – Johan Heunis (Northern Transvaal) 1989
- Most team points in a season: 792 – Sharks in 1996
- Most individual tries in a season: 21 – Bjorn Basson (Griquas) 2010
- Most team tries in a season: 112 – Sharks in 1996
- Most points in a match: 46 – Jannie de Beer – v. Northern Free State in 1997
- Most tries in a match: 7 – Jacques Olivier – v SWD in 1996
- Most final appearances: 11 – Burger Geldenhuys and Naas Botha (Northern Transvaal)
THE HISTORY OF THE CURRIE CUP
The Currie Cup is one of the oldest rugby competitions, with the first games played in 1889 but it was only in 1892 that it became officially known as the Currie Cup.
The competition had its humble beginnings as an inter-province 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 original participating unions were Western Province, Griqualand West, Transvaal, and Eastern Province.
The first tournament was held in Kimberley and was won by Western Province. For a prize, they received a silver cup donated by the South African Rugby Board, now displayed at the SA Rugby Museum in Cape Town.
The story of how the Currie Cup came to be coming from the first overseas rugby team to tour South Africa in 1891, The British Isles, who carried with them a particularly precious bit of cargo. Among the bags, boots and balls was a golden cup given to them by Sir Donald Currie, owner of Union-Castle Lines, the shipping company that transported them to the southern tip of Africa.
Sir Donald was clear with his instructions – hand this trophy over to the team in South Africa that gives the best game; and after a spirited display where the unbeaten British Lions narrowly won 3–0, Griqualand West became the first-ever holders of the Currie Cup.
They then handed the trophy over to the South African rugby board and it became the floating trophy for the Currie Cup competition. The inaugural Currie Cup tournament was thus held in 1892 with Western Province earning the honour of holding it aloft as the first official winners.