The Carling Currie Cup Final is set for this coming weekend. The Natal Sharks will travel to Pretoria to take on the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld for a chance of lifting the world’s oldest rugby trophy.
On-road to the final, each team only lost twice, The Sharks lost to the Golden Lions in week 4 of the group stage as well as reigning champions, the Free State Cheetahs, the week after. The Bulls had a shock loss to the Pumas in the final week of group action and, notably, lost to their 2021 final opponents in the third week of matches. The Bulls topped the regular-season table, with the Sharks booking their playoff spot in third.
The Bulls’ semi-final started just as they would have dreamt, with Stravino Jacobs scoring an unconverted try to open the home team’s account. After missing the conversion, Morné Steyn added six points from the kicking tee to guide the Bulls to a half-time lead of 11-0. Steyn turned the scoreboard over once again early into the second half, giving the hosts a healthy 14-0 lead. Their lead did not last long, as Willem Alberts and Wandile Simelane each dotted down, with Elton Jantjies converting both to level the scores at 14-14. The game shifted in favour of the Bulls as two more tries gave them a 12-point advantage before Burger Odendaal scored a converted try to console the Lions.
The Blue Bulls, and former Springboks, coach Jake White commended his team for their efforts in a press conference after the match. “The nice thing is that we’ve had a really good fighting spirit in the second half – I said it last week as well, we won most of the second halves,” said the experienced coach, “after being 14-0 up and then, two minutes later, 14-all, some sides would maybe start to panic,” he continued, “The fact that we regrouped and ended up showing lots of composure is obviously satisfying for me as a coach.”
After the try-fest at Loftus, the match between the Western Province and Sharks could not have been more different. The match at Newlands was a battle of the boots for most of the game, with Curwin Bosch and Tim Swiel each kicked three penalties in the match. Initially, Bosch’s kick-off failed to travel ten metres, leading to a WP scrum on the halfway line. The scrum was dominated by the Sharks, who won their first penalty, converted by Bosch. By the eleventh minute, the Durban based side were 9-0 up after two more penalties, all from their own half. Tim Swiel of the WP scored two penalties, with the teams heading into half-time at 9-6. Swiel levelled the game early in the second half before Bosch booted his team into the lead again with a drop-goal. The only try of the game came seven minutes before the end, as the Sharks’ lock forward, JJ van der Mescht, crossed the line.
Western Province coach, John Dobson, reflected on his side’s disappointment post-game. “It’s more than disappointment, it’s almost devastation. It was such an important game for us and I think we let ourselves down a lot,” he said. “It’s very sad. It’s not how we wanted to finish here at Newlands, and the players and everybody are more than disappointed.” The Cape Town team are expected to move away from their long-time fortress and into the Cape Town Stadium before the Rainbow Cup in April.
Seven teams from all over South Africa started the Carling Currie Cup season full of hope, now only two teams remain. The final is set for Saturday the 30th of January, and it promises to be a blockbuster encounter when the Vodacom Blue Bulls host the Cell C Sharks at Loftus.