Durban — This weekend the unlikeliest of Currie Cup finals takes place in Kimberley between hosts Griquas and the Mpumulanga Pumas and the question is “is this a good or bad thing for South African rugby?”
The answer to that is easy once you put the Currie Cup into context and accept that the Grand Old Dame of SA rugby is, in fact, now a poor relation and bravely operates in the shadow of the United Rugby Championship.
That has meant that the big boys of the game in this country have mostly fielded “B” teams in the Currie Cup while giving their best to the fledgling European competition so wonderfully won at the weekend by the Stormers.
The hungover latter won’t be caring this morning that their Currie Cup incarnation, Western Province, finished second last and won just three games and if the Bulls had won, they also would not have given a toss that they have surrendered their Currie Cup crown after being shocked at Loftus Versfeld last Friday night by a valiant Griquas team.
But having finished second to the Stormers, Jake White would have loved to have had a shot at redemption by defending the Currie Cup but to the great delight of The Everymen of South African rugby, the big boys have been banished from the final by perennial plodders of the Currie Cup.
The men from Nelspruit and Kimberley year in year out give their absolute best in the Currie Cup but until now have always fallen just short. They have been the Nearly Men for so long, and then when every campaign ends in inevitable failure they lose their best players to the top unions and then start from scratch again, and with limited budgets.
What the Sharks are paying Eben Etzebeth to come to Durban for one season more than likely trebles the budget of Jimmy Stonehouse (Pumas) and Griquas coach Pieter Bergh for their entire squads.
And that is why it so cool that come Saturday evening, one of these minnow unions will be tasting champagne on the winners’ podium while the losing side will at least know what it is like to have been part of a major final and to have had their players lauded for their efforts over the season.
You just have to watch the enotion of Stonehouse in the coaches’ box every weekend to know what it means to a smaller union to triumph over the big boys. Stonehouse is a coaching legend in this country and what he achieves with minimal resources is nothing short of remarkable.
When Stonehouse’s team makes a costly mistake on the pitch, the beefy power-lifter slams his fist into the desk with frustration because he knows his players try their best but have their limitations, and hence they seem destined for the headline “Brave Pumas go down fighting”.
It is exactly the same at Griquas but at last, they are “nearly men” no more.
Both Griquas and the Pumas have proved this year that they are better than the second-best of the Sharks, Bulls, Lions and Bulls and, indeed, the best the Cheetahs can muster.
The final between these two teams is a shot in the arm for South African rugby and a warning to the big unions that their depth is not as good as they think.