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Underdogs bite back

It feels a bit like the Currie Cup has been overshadowed of late, as it’s been played concurrently with the arguably higher profile URC. But this week’s semi-finals have delivered some really exciting rugby, and some unexpected results.

On Friday night, the Griquas came out on top, after taking on the Bulls at Loftus. They beat the home side comprehensively, 19-30. Of course, many will argue that it was an under-strength Bulls team, given that they are also competing in the URC final this weekend, and Bulls coach Gert Smal went as far as suggesting that the Currie Cup should be abandoned if it continues to be devalued by competing priorities. While I don’t disagree with him that one of the oldest competitions in the world has felt a bit like an afterthought this season, his comments smack a little of sour grapes. Perhaps the Bulls coaches should, instead, have worked on improving their Currie Cup squad rather than trying to use the same players in both competitions, but kudos to them for making it as far as the semi-final, a feat none of the other URC teams managed. Much more importantly, it was an impressive display from the Griquas, and they can be extremely proud of their performance. It sees them competing in their first Currie Cup final since 1970, with the added benefit of home ground advantage.

The second semi-final, on Saturday afternoon, was a much tighter affair, with the Pumas sneaking the win just before time was up. You do have to feel a little sorry for the Cheetahs, who had an absolutely stellar start to their Currie Cup campaign, going unbeaten until mid-May before losing to, funnily enough, the Griquas and the Pumas, and then bouncing back against the Bulls in the last round before the playoffs. Everyone loves to love the Cheetahs, and probably feels they were hard done by after being ousted from Super Rugby and then the Pro14 (now URC), so I’m sure a lot of people were rooting for them to win the Currie Cup this time around. And yet, how absolutely wonderful for the Pumas, who are making their own bit of history with their 35-38 semi-final victory – the win sees them competing in their first ever Currie Cup final!

So, while Bulls and Cheetahs fans may be disappointed this weekend, hopefully they don’t begrudge these smaller unions their time in the sun. How exciting to see Currie Cup rugby opening up a little, and creating opportunities for the teams that don’t get to play at any other time during the year. While the Currie Cup never ran concurrently with Super Rugby, as it has with the URC this year, it has always been a competition that allows unions to develop players and showcase new talents, particularly as the opening rounds always saw teams playing without their Springboks. Seeing the so-called underdog unions in the final serves to further highlight the opportunity the Currie Cup provides to identify talent. Hopefully it also means that those smaller unions will get a bit of a cash injection too, allowing them to hold on to those players. Whoever takes the victory next week, I like to think that Currie Cup rugby is the ultimate winner.

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