The Vodacom Bulls will host the Cell C Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, September 11, for the 2021 Carling Currie Cup title-deciding match.
The rivalry between the inland Tshwane side and their coastal counterparts from Durban will be the sixth time the two sides meet in the final of the domestic rugby competition, and the first time they meet in back-to-back finals.
It is the Vodacom Bulls who claimed a 26-19 win in the most recent meeting, only earlier this year. A look back into history also shows that it was the side from the North that was the first to taste victory in a final contested by the two, as far back as 1956.
Here is what has transpired in the encounters the Vodacom Bulls have faced the Cell C Sharks in Carling Currie Cup finals over the years:
1956: NORTHERN TRANSVAAL 9-8 NATAL, Kings Park, Durban
The Vodacom Bulls (then known as Northern Transvaal) were no strangers to the Currie Cup final when they made it to the 1956 title-decider. In fact, they had been finalists in the previous edition in 1954 where they lost to 11-8 to Western Province. The competition had not yet been an annual event, but played every two years at the time. A decade earlier, an 11-9 win over Western Province in the final gave Northern Transvaal their first taste of Currie Cup victory.
So, in 1956 it was the first time that Northern Transvaal would meet the Natal (the name the Cell C Sharks went by in that era) in an incredibly close contest which saw the home side go to the half-time break leading 8-6.
A second-half surge by Northern Transvaal saw them preventing the home team from scoring any further points while a try ensured them victory.
The points for Northern Transvaal were scored by winger Willie Esterhuizen, flanker Schalk van Dyk (both tries) and a drop-goal from winger Dolf Bekker. The home side scored a try by wing Gavin Duffy, converted by centre Roy Dryburgh, who also added a penalty kick.
1990: NATAL 18-12 NORTHERN TRANSVAAL, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
It would take a whopping 34 years before the two teams would again meet in a Currie Cup final.
This time, it was the side from Pretoria that would play hosts at Loftus Versfeld. Like the previous encounter over three decades before, the match was closely-contested.
While many pundits would have placed the Northern Transvaal as firm favourites for the 1990 clash, it was the coastal side that claimed what was regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the history of Currie Cup finals, and in the process earning their first domestic title.
It was fullback, Gerbrandt Grobler, who scored a try and a penalty, while the legendary Naas Botha slotted in a drop-goal and conversion for Northern Transvaal.
The points that won the game for Natal came via a late try by winger, Tony Watson, which was converted by flyhalf, Joel Stransky.
Stransky, who would later score the winning points for the Springboks at the 1995 World Cup, added a further four penalties to earn their first bragging rights.
2003: BLUE BULLS 40-19 SHARKS, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
The wait had been 13 years before the sides met again. Northern Tranvaal was now known as the Blue Bulls, while Natal had changed their name to the Sharks.
As opposed to the evenly-matched previous two encounters, the side from Pretoria was more domineering in this fixture, particularly in the second half. At half-time the Blue Bulls had an 18-7 advantage.
To add to the resurgence of the home side, the Sharks were dealt a double blow when ill-discipline saw them lose flyhalf, Butch James, and prop, Ollie le Roux, to yellow cards.
It was a match to remember for Blue Bulls’ centre, Etienne Botha (who tragically passed away two years later), as he scored two tries on the day. Other tries for the home team came from scrumhalf, Fourie du Preez, winger, Gavin Passens, and fullback, Johan Roets. Pivot, Louis Strydom, scored three conversions and three penalties with the book to secure the win.
The Sharks could only muster three tries from AJ Venter, Dave von Hoesslin and Deon Kayser, with James converting twice.
2008: SHARKS 14-9 BLUE BULLS, Absa Stadium, Durban
It was again a close encounter in 2008 between the sides. This time in Durban.
The Sharks were eager to even history out in the fourth meeting between the sides which had until then saw the Blue Bulls winning twice and the home team having only done so in the 1990 clash, and also having last won the domestic title 12 years earlier.
The Sharks enjoyed a star-studded outfit which included, among others, 2007 World Cup winners John Smit (Bok captain), Bismarck du Plessis, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn, as well as French international, Freddie Michalak.
The Blue Bulls managed to only score two penalties and a drop-goal from the boot of Morne Steyn.
The Sharks’ points came via tries from Pienaar and Steyn, with Pienaar converting one and Michalak the other.
2020/21: VODACOM BULLS 26-19 CELL C SHARKS, Loftus Versfeld, Tshwane
With both sides having one two titles apiece in finals where they had squared up against each other, there was an opportunity for one to claim the bragging rights following a season and calendar that was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a result, the competition ran over from 2020 into 2021, with the final being played in January.
Similar to previous clashes, both sides showed their intention of claiming victory. So close was the encounter that it needed to go into extra time for a winner to emerge. It was the Vodacom Bulls who extended their record against their rivals from the coast as the game ended 26-19 in their favour.
The Cell C Sharks held a 13-9 lead at half-time, following interruptions as a result of lightning in the first half. After 80 minutes of play, the sides had been tied 19-19, and needed an additional 20 minutes of play for a victor to emerge.
It took an extra-time try from Arno Botha to seal the victory for the Vodacom Bulls, whose other points came courtesy of an earlier try by Botha, a conversion each for Morne Steyn and Chris Smith, and three penalties for Steyn and one for Smith.
The Cell C Sharks’ points’ scorers were Sbu Nkosi (try) and Curwin Bosch (a conversion and four penalties)
NEXT UP, 2021: VODACOM BULLS vs CELL C SHARKS, Loftus Versfeld, Tshwane