Cape Town — Replacement George Whitehead was the hero with 18 points as Griquas caused a major upset by pulling off a superb 30-19 Currie Cup semi-final triumph over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
Man-of-the-Match Whitehead came on for injured fullback Ashlon Davids in the 24th minute and engineered a dramatic turnaround for the visitors, who will contest their first final since 1970 – when they won their third title 11-9 against the then-Northern Transvaal in Kimberley.
They will now await the winner of Saturday’s second semi-final between the Cheetahs and Pumas in Bloemfontein (1.30pm). If the Free Staters win, the final will be in Bloem next weekend, but if the Pumas produce another surprise result, the title decider will be in Kimberley.
Both sides started well enough as they put together some efficient phases on attack, but the last pass seldom went to hand as the handling let them down.
It took all of 25 minutes for the first points to be scored, after Bulls flyhalf Juan Mostert missed an early penalty at goal. Powerful No 8 Muller Uys raced upfield from a lineout, and after a series of carries close to the line, captain Lizo Gqoboka went over.
Whitehead, though, reduced the deficit after the halftime hooter had sounded, and at 7-3, Griquas were well into the contest and looked the more organised and hungrier of the team teams.
Whitehead added another three-pointer early in the second half, and even though Griquas lost captain Niel Otto – whose father had passed away on Thursday – to a head knock after he tried to tackle Mostert, the visitors kept plugging away and making inroads into the Bulls with ball-in-hand.
Matters worsened for Gert Smal’s team when prop Jacques van Rooyen was given a yellow card for a dangerous ruck clean-out on Griquas No 1 Kudzwai Dube – which should have been a red card as he made direct contact with the head. But referee Colby felt after watching the TV replays that the contact was more on Dube’s back.
With the one-man advantage, Griquas ramped up the pressure. Whitehead slotted a third penalty to make it 9-7, and then the knockout blow was landed when busy flank Hanru Sirgel finished off smartly following a superb long pass by centre Rynhardt Jonker and try-scoring offload from wing Munier Hartzenberg.
Then it was that man Whitehead who added the finishing touches by scoring Griquas’ third try with 15 minutes to go to put them into a 23-7 lead.
The Bulls scored two late consolation tries through Bernard van der Linde and Mostert, but Griquas were awarded a penalty try following a collapsed maul, and closed out the victory on a memorable night for coach Pieter Bergh.
Bulls 19 – Tries: Lizo Gqoboka, Bernard van der Linde, Juan Mostert. Conversion: Mostert (2).
Griquas 30 – Tries: Hanru Sirgel, George Whitehead, Penalty Try. Conversions: Whitehead (2). Penalties: Whitehead (3).