2022 Griquas vs Pumas

Currie Cup Final Preview : Underdogs Collide As Griquas, Pumas Make History

Currie Cup Final Preview : Underdogs Collide As Griquas, Pumas Make History

After huge semifinal wins, the Griquas and Pumas now will face off in the Currie Cup final for the honor of being South Africa's top rugby team for 2022.

Jun 24, 2022 by Briar Napier
Currie Cup Final Preview : Underdogs Collide As Griquas, Pumas Make History

It all looked set in stone, didn't it?

The Blue Bulls and Free State Cheetahs - the top two seeds, fierce rivals, powers of South African rugby - looked primed for a crash course in the Currie Cup final, pinning yet another championship in the tournament's long and winding history to a member of the country's "Big 5" of mighty, historic club rugby teams.

All they had to do was get past the Griquas and Pumas, respectively. Funny how things work out.

The underdogs in each semifinal shocked the South African rugby scene by pulling off wins on back-to-back days, making for an unlikely (yet intriguing) pairing in the country's most historic match, the Currie Cup final. 

Now, one fanbase will cry tears of joy for a generational victory, while the other will weep with tears of sadness wondering if they'll ever get to that point again.

What's ahead as the Griquas and Pumas clash to close the book on another Currie Cup season? 

Here's a look at what each team brings to the table as the match awaits on FloRugby this weekend:

Griquas (Kimberley, Northern Cape Province)

How they got here: Beat Blue Bulls 30-19 in semifinals

Currie Cup titles: Three (1899, 1911, 1970)

The lowdown: The 1970 season is a hallowed year in Griquas lore. It was the last time the team from the Northern Cape qualified for a Currie Cup final, famously going on to beat Northern Transvaal (now the Blue Bulls) in Kimberley for the team's last triumph in South Africa's top club rugby competition. 

Now, 52 years later, they'll have a chance to do it again. 

Following a shocking upset against the Blue Bulls in the semifinals, the Griquas won't just be back in front of what's sure to be a raucous crowd at the Griqua Park this weekend, they'll likely be backed by most to be favorites to capture their first Currie Cup in over a half-century. 

After being forced to win a relegation playoff to keep their status as a Premier Division club just five years ago, the Griquas are playing some of the best rugby seen from the squad in decades under coach Pieter Bergh, who in less than 12 months in charge, already has cemented a spot in Griquas history, win or lose. 

Fullback Zander du Plessis has been spectacular all season and is an emerging star aged just 22, finishing the regular season on 95 points as the league's runner-up behind only Cheetahs and former Springboks star Ruan Pienaar. 

A win in the final this weekend would especially mean much to fly-half George Whitehead, who was part of the 2017 side that was nearly relegated. 

Following a Man of the Match performance, in which he tallied 18 points by himself (one try, two conversions, three penalties) in the semifinal triumph, there will be few players on the pitch of which a Currie Cup win would mean more to than Whitehead. 

Also, the Griquas beat their final opponent twice during the regular season. First, 41-20 in Round 3, then 45-44 in Round 14. That's a fact that perhaps may give the team a bit of solace as it prepares for quite possibly the most vital game in its existence. 

Many Griquas fans probably weren't alive to see their team's last triumph in the Currie Cup, but if the team does indeed pull off the victory this weekend, the five decades of waiting surely will be well worth the jubilation.

Pumas (Mbombela, Mpumalanga)

How they got here: Beat Free State Cheetahs 38-35 in semifinals

Currie Cup titles: None

The lowdown: Think Griquas' run to the Currie Cup final is awe-inspiring? The Pumas' path to the most important match in South African rugby has been nothing short of stunning. 

Needing a Western Province win over the Sharks on the regular season's final day to even make the postseason, the Pumas have more than made do in the place they've found themselves in recently. 

Down 35-24 with less than 10 minutes to play in their semifinal against the Cheetahs on away turf, the Pumas scored twice in the final five minutes to upset the playoff's top seed and set themselves up for their first Currie Cup final in team history. 

If the Pumas were to win on the road once more and win a benchmark piece of silverware, they'd ironically be the first non-member of South Africa's "Big 5" of rugby (Cheetahs, Blue Bulls, Sharks, Golden Lions and Western Province) to win the Currie Cup since Griquas did it in 1970. 

As the Cheetahs learned the hard way this past weekend, the Pumas are on no fluke run. 

Coach Jimmy Stonehouse's unit allowed the second-fewest tries (32) of any team in the regular season and had a combined three tries against the Cheetahs from their star men on the attack, fly-half Eddie Fouche and centre Sebastian de Klerk. 

Perhaps the most dangerous intangible about the Pumas heading into the final, however, is that it's a team playing with house money at this point, already having overachieved greatly this year and finding itself playing for what would be the greatest achievement in its history. 

The pressure is by no means on the Pumas, and that could result in the squad playing loose and free, even in hostile territory. 

However, a good barometer to how the match will go could be based on if the Pumas strike early - the team scored first in every victory this season across the regular season and playoffs, crossing the try line seven times in the first 10 minutes across all fixtures this year. 

Stonehouse is in his second string as Pumas coach, having already once led the team from 2008-2015, and had to dig the side out of the second-tier First Division and back to the Premier Division during that first run. 

If the celebrations in Mbombela were wild for that, imagine what they will be like if Stonehouse helps to pull off one of the most epic shock runs in Currie Cup history.