Cape Town – “I was sick and tired of talking about 1970!” That was how Griquas coach Pieter Bergh expressed his relief after his team reached the Currie Cup final for the first time in 52 years when they toppled defending champions the Bulls 30-19 in Friday’s semi-final.
Having gone down 7-0 in the first half, Griquas – inspired by a Man-of-the-Match performance by replacement fullback George Whitehead – scored 27 points in the second half to gain revenge on the Bulls, who beat them home and away in the league stages.
It means that Griquas will now face either the Cheetahs or Pumas – who square off in the second semi-final in Bloemfontein on Saturday (1.30pm kickoff) in their first Currie Cup final since 1970, when they beat Northern Transvaal 11-9 in Kimberley.
“I must say, I don’t think it has sunk in yet – it’s special. For so many years, Griquas have talked about 1970… I have been involved with Griquas as an assistant coach from 2012 to 2018, and every year… In that time, we never made a semi-final, with good teams, very good Griquas teams,” Bergh said in the post-match press conference.
“There was always the talk of winning the Currie Cup, and talking about 1970. Then in 2019 they made the semi-finals and in 2021, and they couldn’t take that step. So, incredibly proud of these guys. I said to them in the pre-match talk that there is a reason why the Guinness Book of World Records gets rewritten every year!
“That was my team talk to the guys, because history just changes. Records are there to be broken, and I was sick and tired of talking about 1970.
“The 1970 team won it, and we haven’t won it yet. But it’s the first time that we are in the final in 52 years, so I am incredibly proud of these players.”
As the Cheetahs topped the Currie Cup log, they will host the final in Bloemfontein next weekend if they beat the Pumas today, while Griquas will be rooting for the Mpumalanga team as then the title decider will be played in Kimberley.
“Obviously we can take a lot of confidence. The last time I sat here, I said we need to win three games to get into a semi. We treated it like three playoff matches, and this was our fourth playoff match, so we are used to this knockout rugby,” Bergh said.
“We feel we are well prepared for a final, and I must say we are shouting for the Pumas because that will mean a home final for us, and that will be special for Kimberley.”
In contrast, Bulls coach Gert Smal bemoaned the lack of discipline from his side, as they conceded a number of penalties, had a yellow card to prop Jacques van Rooyen and gave away a penalty try for collapsing a Griquas maul.
“It’s (poor discipline) something I am absolutely not happy about. It’s a thing that we address during the course of the year every time. But at the end of the day, we have to get that right. You won’t win competitions if you are not accurate enough in certain things, and that’s what happened to us,” Smal said.
“There were different kinds of challenges that we had. It was a very challenging week… The URC team only came back on Monday, and guys were stuck in Frankfurt and only arrived here on Tuesday, so we could only put a team together on Tuesday – and then we played on a Friday as well.
“So, it was a massive challenge to get a kind of a very simple plan in place to see that the players were comfortable in the way we wanted to play and attack. So, very challenging, very disappointed. We really tried our best to make the Currie Cup as prestigious as possible, so we always try to get a combination as such that we respect the Currie Cup.
“Whoever is going to make the calls in future… If it goes on like this – we were the only big union who got so far – if we in a certain way devalue the Currie Cup, and don’t respect the times and don’t play our best players there, we must rather put the Currie Cup in a glass box or museum or something, and just call it (this competition) the Vodacom Cup or something.”