Last Friday, after Griquas bundled his team out of the semi-finals of the Currie Cup, Gert Smal called for the competition to be reconsidered –maybe even shelved. The Currie Cup, said the Blue Bulls coach, was being devalued.
Maybe he should ask the people of Kimberley and the Griqualand West rugby diaspora if they agree. The last time the Currie Cup final was played in Kimberley – 52 years ago – Griquas won. The opponents were, strangely enough, the Blue Bulls. Nobody checked the annals of the Diamond Fields Advertiser this week to find out if the Pretoria based coach then had argued that the competition was being devalued too. But that’s because he probably didn’t.
Smal’s choking on the sourest of sour grapes because if his team had won last week and today’s game was at Loftus – and if they won it (which they did back-to-back during the pandemic) – they’d be the first to go to the top of the stands and tell everyone how awesome they were.
But they didn’t. And they aren’t.
Instead, the final is being played in Kimberley at what used to be Hoffe Park, but is now the more gentrified Absa Park. The field is still probably harder than playing contact rugby on the tarmac parking lot outside and the spectators probably don’t do Mexican waves with full cans of beer like they used to 20 years ago, but it is a very special place for those who know.
And Griquas are a very special team. When professionalism dawned, Free State A became the Sharks, Free State B played in Bloemfontein and a handful of diehards mixed with Free State C and a bunch of superannuated schoolkids in their first year at varsity made up Griquas.
Nothing much has changed, the stalwarts remain, but the rest are all bright eyed and bushy tailed on their way to greater things; kids who’ll be the next Victor Matfield (yup, Andre Markgraaff headhunted him from Polokwane back in the 90s), swan diving Bok flyer Jearus Nickolas or Jonathan Mokuena, the former SA Sevens captain turned coach and TV pundit. The Pumas, who’ve never won the cup, are worthy opponents in every measure, ask Free State.
Smal wanted the Currie Cup to be put in a museum and the domestic competition redubbed the Vodacom Cup, the domestic tournament that used to be run when the big teams were playing Super Rugby. What will that make the URC when the European Champions league gets underway next year? Everyone knew what the rules were when they signed on. The script just didn’t go the way rugby’s entitled aristocrats expected.
We saw a fairy tale against all odds at the Cape Town stadium last Saturday. Hoffe Park isn’t really the kind of place where you’d expect Cinderella to get to the ball – even in an ox carriage – but today is going to be a fairy tale in Kimberley, irrespective of who wins. Because when the final whistle blows rugby and the fans will have won – rather than pampered prima donnas expecting to pitch up and collect the cup.
Originally published in the Saturday Star on 25 June 2022