Continuing the heritage of rivalry between the provinces
Steeped in history and tradition, South Africa’s premier
Provincial rugby competition, the ABSA-Currie Cup, dates back to 1889.
The tournament is the cornerstone of South Africa’s rugby
heritage. After more than a century of existence, the coveted gold trophy remains the most
prestigious prize in South African domestic rugby.
The ABSA-Currie Cup had its beginnings in 1884 when an inter-town
competition was inaugurated. In 1889 it was upgraded to an inter-centre tournament. The
then South African Rugby Board donated a silver trophy to be presented to the winners.
Western Province became the first winners of the "Raadsbeker", which today
stands in the SA Rugby Museum in Cape Town.
The trademark gold trophy was donated by Sir Donald Currie in 1891 on
the departure of WE Maclaglan’s British Isles team to South Africa. This was to be
presented to the local team that did the best against the visitors. The trophy was
presented to Griqualand West who, in turn, presented it to the Board for the inter-centre
competition. Western Province became the first winners of the gold trophy in 1892.
Only five teams participated in the inaugural Currie Cup tournament in
1892. Matches were played on a round-robin format at a central venue over a period of a
week to ten days with the log winners getting the trophy. This structure remained in place
until 1920. In these early years the competition was not played annually. International
tours took preference and there were disruptions during wartime.
In 1922 the competition was extended to eight teams. Matches were
played on a home and away basis over the duration of the rugby season. Transvaal won in
1922 but Western Province continued to dominate, notching up four outright wins and
sharing the trophy twice with Border between 1923 and 1936.
By 1939, the tournament had grown to 12 teams, split into North and
South regions. The winners of each section faced each other in what was to be the very
first Currie Cup Final. In the competition’s Jubilee Year, Transvaal beat Western
Province 17 - 6 to record their first-ever Currie Cup victory at Newlands in Cape Town.
The next Currie Cup final was to take place seven years later in 1946,
after the end of the Second World War. Again Western Province qualified for the final but
they were beaten 11 - 9 by Northern Transvaal in Pretoria.
Western Province won again in 1947, Transvaal beat Northern Transvaal
to win in 1950 and Border won their first title in 1952.
In 1954, the Currie Cup structure was changed. Fifteen teams were
divided into three sections and semi-finals were played for the first time.
The eventual winners were Western Province who beat Northern Transvaal
11 - 8 at Newlands. The Blue Bulls were victorious in 1956 after they beat Natal 9 - 8 in
the Durban side’s first Final appearance at Kingsmead.
In 1957 a new Currie Cup format was introduced. It was decided that the
Currie Cup would be played on a league basis across two seasons, 1957 and 1959. At the end
of 1959, Western Province had one point more than Northern Transvaal and the trophy
returned to Newlands. No final was played. Unhappiness over this system led to the Currie
Cup being cancelled for five years until 1964. In this year, the competition was divided
into five sections with the individual winners going forward into a further league
competition. Again there was no final with Western Province taking the honours after
finishing top of the standings. This format was repeated in 1966 with Western Province
again emerging victorious.
No Currie Cup competition was held in 1967 as a result of the French
tour to South Africa. In 1968, the number of teams in the competition increased to 16,
divided into two pools. Northern Transvaal won their third title after beating Transvaal
in the final.
While the system was regularly changed to include either two or three
sections, the Currie Cup competition has been played and a Final held every year from 1968
to the present day. The period between the 1968 and 1981 saw the Blue Bulls’ golden
years. Over a period of 14 years the men from Pretoria won the title outright nine times
and shared it twice. This spectacular run included five straight titles between 1977 and
1981 (shared with WP in 1979).
Western Province took over the Champions mantle in the early to
mid-eighties when they repeated Northerns’ feat of five consecutive wins between 1982
and 1986. Northerns won the title again in 1987 and 1988 and shared the spoils with
Province in 1989. Natal, who won their first-ever title in 1990, eventually broke the
13-year dominance by Province and the Blue Bulls. Although Northerns came back to win
against the odds in 1991, the nineties heralded a new Currie Cup rivalry - that between
Transvaal and Natal.
Natal won again in 1992, 1995 and 1996 while Transvaal were title
holders in 1993 and 1994. The wheel turned full-circle when Western Province claimed the
title for the first time in 11 years in the 1997 final against Free State. In 1998, the
Blue Bulls claimed the title for the first time since 1991 and the Lions (formerly
Transvaal) became the last champions of the 20th century when they beat the Natal
Sharks in the 1999 final.
Western Province won the first two titles of the 21st century, beating
the Natal Sharks in both the 2000 and 2001 final. The Blue Bulls came to the fore in 2002,
beating the Lions in the final to secure their second title in five seasons.
From 2003 the ABSA-Currie Cup reverts to a strength vs strength system
with a Premier Division of eight teams and a First Division of six teams. A double-round
of matches will be played with the top two teams in each Division qualifying for the
Over more than a century, the ABSA-Currie Cup has seen many changes,
but the ultimate prize has remained the same - that of being crowned South Africa’s
Provincial rugby champions.