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Anticipation builds for Currie Cup final

I remember that Saturday afternoon on 27 October 2001 very clearly when Newlands played host to its first Currie Cup final in four years.

I was a grade nine pupil at the time and, being born and bred in Cape Town, I was a huge Western Province fan and excited to be at my first-ever Currie Cup final. Few words would do justice to describe the euphoria in the stadium that day.

Newlands was literally packed to the brim, as I watched the game from the now-defunct popular standing section on the grand stand.

The Sharks came to Cape Town as underdogs because a Springbok-laden WP side were the obvious favourites. Corné Krige, Bob Skinstad, Percy Montgomery and Braam van Straaten were all playing in the blue and white hoops.

The Sharks were confident though. The two sides had met a few weeks before the final and the Sharks beat Province 36-13. And in the first 40 minutes the final wasn't exactly going according to plan for the "streeptruie".

I'll admit that I was with the majority of Province fans who were ready to throw in the towel and leave at halftime as a disappointing defeat seemed very much on the cards.

Two tries for the Sharks by John Smit and Gaffie du Toit had given the Durban side a 17-6 lead and Province looked likely to relinquish the Currie Cup title they had won the year before, ironically, when they beat the Sharks in the Shark Tank in Durban.

But a very different Province team emerged from the tunnel after halftime. A well-taken chip-and-chase try by Chris Rossouw swung the pendulum back in the home side's favour.

From there on, it was all Province and chants of "WP, jou lekker ding" began reverberating from all corners of the stadium.

The day, however, belonged to WP centre Braam van Straaten, playing his final game before jetting off to Leeds in the UK. And what a game it turned out to be for him.

He scored 24 points on the day, leading Province to an amazing come-from-behind victory at Newlands. Province eventually won 29-24.

Fast forward 12 years and it's a feeling of déjà vu with the same fixture and with WP again favourites to retain the title.

Yes, rugby has changed since 2001, yet a lot has stayed the same. For example, back then Province had the nippy little Breyton Paulse on the wing. This time around it's Cheslin Kolbe who possesses the slickest sidestep in the game.

Province fans will be banking on the fact that the home team's skipper Deon Fourie will be donning the number 6 jersey is a good omen, just as in 2001 when Corne Krigé lifted the trophy at Newlands - the last Province captain to do so.

Chris Rossouw was the flyhalf back then and this year it's Demetri Catrakilis. Neither are number 10s in the classical sense, but both possess deadly accurate boots and can be dangerous match winners on their day. Also, factor in that this year the Bok number 8 is Duane Vermeulen, and back then it was Bob Skinstad. So it's destined to be, right?

I'm happy to put my head on the block and predict that Province will win the Currie Cup back-to-back as they did in 2000 and 2001.

The only problem with that 2001 victory at Newlands was that it marked the beginning of an 11-year trophy drought for the Cape team. Hopefully victory at Newlands on Saturday will not be the beginning of another drought.

Rafiq Wagiet is an EWN Sport reporter based in Cape Town. Forgive him for predicting Western Province would lose the semi-final.