Coach Pieter Bergh says the Currie Cup final proved too big an occasion for his young Griquas squad but that the experience of a historic season has turned boys into men.
The battle of SA’s underdog finalists in Kimberley went the way of the Pumas as the men from Nelspruit won their first Currie Cup title.
Griquas welcomed 10,988 spectators – including some of the survivors of the famous 1970 title win – back to Griqua Park after qualifying for their first final in over 50 years.
However, it was the Pumas, coached by Jimmy Stonehouse, who turned in a clinical performance to outscore Griquas three tries to one before heroically defending a nine-point lead in the latter stages of the second half.
Speaking after the final, Bergh admitted that the occasion may have been too much for his young team to handle.
“To be honest, I thought we had stage fright. We have to be honest about that. We didn’t pitch up from the first minute, there were too many mistakes and errors which put us on the back foot.
“The plan was to not give them lineout and to kick contestables instead. We got so much reward when we played in Nelspruit from kicking contestables and getting the ball back. But we did not kick one contestable kick in the whole game. So, we didn’t execute our plan.
“We beat the Pumas twice this season and that was because we were tactically very good. Today, there were so many things. They were more physical than us, their defence was better than us, their set piece was better than us. In all areas of the game, we were second best. But if you don’t pitch up, then you will be second best to everything.
“Maybe with this young squad, this week was too emotional. A home game, all the talk of 1970, there was a lot of chat.
“All credit must go to Jimmy. He deserves it. I think he has done a brilliant job this whole year, the way they’ve come back, beating Cheetahs in the last minute and then to come here and win. He has done amazing work with the Pumas for a very long time. Hopefully, I get another chance, but Jimmy and the Pumas deserve this.”
Having gone into half time trailing 18-9, Bergh admitted it was a struggle to get Griquas to raise their collective energy during the break for one last comeback effort.
“It looked like there was only one team who wanted to win this thing. We just weren’t there. Even at half time, the look I got from the players’ faces … I was trying to motivate them, but they looked like they still had stage fright at half time, I thought.
“The whole season, we have played our best rugby when we have been behind, but by then it was too late. Everything went wrong. Maybe this week for this young team was too emotional in the end.”
Despite not being able to repay the support of the locals with some silverware, Bergh, who will be staying on as Griquas coach for at least the next two years, said he was incredibly excited for the future.
“I must thank the people of Kimberley, the locals who came out and supported us. The whole week, the messages we got, it was just wonderful. Hopefully, we can give them this again in the future. The near future, not 52 years later.
“I think we are building something special here. The majority of this squad is staying here for the next two years. Hopefully, we can get them there.
“I told the players in the change room that I am proud of them. Where we were in January, we played that first game against Cheetahs with 10 or 11 guys making their debut. Ten of those players came from Varsity Cup.
“Boys became men this year. I am very proud of that. They have shown what can be done when people come together and work towards the same goal.
“The sky is the limit. There is a lot of good players who will leave us in the future and become top URC players. Some of them can become Springboks.
“We started the season with zero continuity. I told the players there are good teams and even great teams who have lost finals, we must learn from this and when we are in this position again, we will be better than we were tonight.”
Photo: Charle Lombard/BackpagePix