Cape Town – Griquas have endured a roller-coaster ride in this year’s Currie Cup, but they will have their semi-final destiny in their own hands in Friday’s repeat of last year’s final against the Pumas in Kimberley (3pm kickoff).
Only once have the Northern Cape side enjoyed two wins in a row this season – a 25-18 triumph over the Lions in Johannesburg on April 16, which was followed by a 42-27 victory against the Griffons in Kimberley.
Coach Pieter Bergh would have been left frustrated by his team’s inconsistent results since, as they went down 24-6 to the Sharks and then beat the Lions 25-21, but again went down 40-20 to the Blue Bulls before beating the Griffons 47-21.
The derby against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein ended in a 29-29 draw, and Bergh’s team had it all to do to stay in the playoff race against Western Province in Kimberley last weekend.
Against a powerful WP outfit filled with Stormers URC stars such as Hacjivah Dayimani and Ruhan Nel, Griquas were 19-7 behind in the first half, but made a remarkable comeback in the second half, with replacement centre Sango Xamlashe scoring a superb try in the closing stages to secure a 38-29 win.
That sees them holding on for dear life in fifth position on the log on 35 points, but at least their task is straightforward – beat the Pumas, and they will go through to the last-four.
In sharp contrast, the Pumas started the season in outstanding fashion, winning their first four matches – including a 63-15 thrashing of the Bulls in Pretoria, a 61-21 walkover against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and a 28-13 triumph over Griquas.
But the wheels have come off for Jimmy Stonehouse’s team as they have lost five out of their last six matches, with just the lone win over the Griffons.
So, where they should have qualified by now for the playoffs, the Pumas are third on 36 points and are in danger of missing out on an opportunity to defend the title they won in Kimberley last year.
The Pumas’ forwards battled at times in the defeats to the Bulls and Cheetahs at Mbombela Stadium, and Stonehouse has made a few changes to the front row this week, with Corné Fourie moving from hooker to loosehead prop and PJ Jacobs donning the No 2 jersey.
Livewire scrumhalf Chriswill September is also back at No 9 in place of Giovan Snyman, and his combination with in-form flyhalf Tinus de Beer will be crucial in the territory game and on attack.
Griquas mentor Bergh has also tweaked his front row, with Janu Botha coming in for Justin Forwood at tighthead prop, and a hard-working pack led by inspirational flank Hanru Sirgel won’t take a backward step upfront.
Halfbacks Johan Mulder and Lubabalo Dobela have varied their play well, and they also have a deadly goal-kicker in fullback George Whitehead, who could just be the difference in the end.
Griquas: 15 George Whitehead 14 Rosko Specman 13 Jay-Cee Nel 12 Tertius Kruger 11 Luther Obi 10 Lubabalo Dobela 9 Johan Mulder 8 Carl Els 7 Hanru Sirgel (captain) 6 Thabo Ndimande 5 Derik Pretorius 4 Dylan Sjoblom 3 Janu Botha 2 Janco Uys 1 Kudzwai Dube.
Bench: 16 Sean Swart 17 Cebo Dlamini 18 Justin Forwood 19 Johan Retief 20 Stephan Smit 21 Raegan Oranjé 22 Eddie Fouché 23 Sango Xamlashe.
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams 14 Andrew Kota 13 Diego Appollis 12 Ali Mgijima 11 Etienne Taljaard 10 Tinus de Beer 9 Chriswill September 8 Kwanda Dimaza 7 Franna Kleinhans 6 André Fouché 5 Shane Kirkwood (captain) 4 Deon Slabbert 3 Simon Raw 2 PJ Jacobs 1 Corné Fourie.
Bench: 16 Darnell Osuagwu 17 Etienne Janeke 18 Dewald Maritz 19 Malembe Mpofu 20 Ruwald van der Merwe 21 Giovan Snyman 22 Gene Willemse 23 Wian van Niekerk.