JOHANNESBURG - They're a team none of the big boys like playing against, especially in Kimberley, and for the Lions, Friday's outing against Griquas promises to be as tough as any they’ll play in this year’s Currie Cup.
The men from the Northern Cape have built a reputation over the years of being giant-killers and while they haven’t quite lived up to that billing this season, they’ll still be difficult opponents for Swys de Bruin and his Lions.
The thing is, Peter Engledow’s team have let slip a number of strong positions in games this season and are desperate to get back in the race for the semi-finals.
Like the Lions, Griquas have won just two of their seven matches in the Currie Cup, but they’ll feel they should have had a few more wins in the bag.
They lost by six points (45-51) and two points (42-44) respectively to the Blue Bulls, by five points (43-48) to the Lions, and by six points (21-27) to the Pumas in matches Engledow believes his side should have won.
“If we had a reunion of some kind we’d all be talking about the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve... we’ve had so many chances to win and be up there... but it’s one of those seasons where we’re just not getting over the final hurdle,” said Engledow, who’s been in charge in Kimberley since 2014.
“It’s a bit disappointing really. But, we also know if we can win three or four more we can still get into the top four and play in the semi-finals later on. That’s where all our energy is focused right now.”
As is the case with so many of the smaller unions in South Africa, Engledow said the fact that Griquas have to rebuild every season with new players makes it difficult for him to build a strong team culture - something the Lions have managed to do in recent years.
“Things like cohesiveness, an understanding of where we are headed... it’s difficult when you’re losing 10, 12 players each season,” said the coach. “But we’re working hard to build that culture.
“Look at the Lions who we face on Friday... on top of them changing head coaches, they’ve lost several players to Japanese club rugby and the bulk of their players have helped put the Springboks back on track, yet they can still put a strong team into the field against us. They’ve got quality youngsters.
“If I think back to 2014 when we won the Vodacom Cup (30-6) against the Lions in my first year here they had the likes of Courtnall Skosan, Harold Vorster, Ruan Combrinck, Malcolm Marx, Lourens Erasmus running out for them... and look where those guys are now.
“They’re going to come here with a strong team... a very formidable pack, with a solid front row, and at the back they have two of the best young centres in South Africa, in Vorster and Rohan Janse van Rensburg.”
Griquas though may well still start as favourites on Friday, simply because they’ve shown how difficult it is for opposition teams to beat them in Kimberley and because they’ll be desperate to show they’re a force to be taken seriously in South African rugby. More so when one considers they may, like the Kings and Cheetahs who’ve joined the PRO14, be headed to Europe to play in the Anglo-Welsh Cup from next year.
“That decision will be made around October, November... I’m hoping it comes off, for the Anglo-Welsh Cup (which includes England’s Premiership teams as well as teams from the four Welsh regions) or in some other competition,” said Engledow, who spent close on 10 years coaching in England.
“Saru have done well to get the Cheetahs and Kings playing internationally and I know we’re also in the mix. It would really give us something to build on, and also some buying power.
"We’ve always been seen as a union that develops young talent so it would be great if we could continue that trend, especially with the country’s youngsters. Because one thing players are guaranteed of here is getting game time.”
The Pumas are the other South African team being talked about as joining the Anglo-Welsh Cup from next year.