George Whitehead scored 24 points as the Griffons stunned the previously unbeaten Leopards 44-25 in the Currie Cup First Division final in Potchefstroom on Friday.
The defending champion Leopards came into this match on an 18-match winning streak in the competition, dating back to 2015. They had romped into this year's semi-finals with five bonus-point wins from their five round-robin matches and comfortably beat the Valke 40-30 in the semi-final last week.
The Griffons' road to the final was much tougher, with the Welkom-based side scraping into the playoffs with three victories from five matches, before downing the Border Bulldogs 25-16 last weekend.
Despite the contrast in fortunes and the Leopards' favourites tag, the visitors produced a superb performance to clinch the title.
Whitehead marshalled the Griffons attack magnificently, while also efficiently keeping the scoreboard kicking over by succeeding with six out of eight attempts off the tee.
The Griffons raced out to a 10-3 lead courtesy of a self-converted try and a penalty from Whitehead. It took the Leopards a while to find their rhythm and settle down, but they hit back with a try and two penalties to narrow the gap to two. However, lacklustre defending saw them concede a converted try on the stroke of half-time as the Griffons headed into the sheds 20-11 up.
Untroubled throughout the season, the Leopards had finally found a defensively organised side that curbed their attacking prowess.
The Leopards started positively in the second half as they bashed away at the Griffons line and their persistence paid off when fullback Jaco Hayward crossed to make it a two-point game again.
That try sparked hopes of a comeback, but the Griffons shut that door by adding 17 unanswered points to their tally after Leopards captain Jeandré Rudolph was yellow-carded for kicking the ball away after the whistle had gone.
The Griffons' stonewall defence frustrated the hosts, who lost their discipline as the match petered out. Centre Johan Deysel scored a well-worked try three minutes from full time, only for the Griffons to cancel it out in the 80th minute when centre Tertius Kruger scored his second of the game.
Whitehead deservedly wrapped up the scoring by slotting the conversion, and so capped off a fine solo performance to ensure the Griffons were crowned First Division champions for the second time in three years.
Leopards – Tries: Jeandre Rudolph, Jaco Hayward, Johan Deysel. Conversions: Deysel (2). Penalties: Deysel (2).
Griffons – Tries: George Whitehead, Selvyn Davids, Tertius Kruger (2), Penalty try. Conversions: Whitehead (5). Penalties: Whitehead (3).
Leopards – 15 Jaco Hayward, 14 Dean Gordon, 13 Adrian Vermeulen, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 Bradley Moolman, 10 Gene Willemse, 9 Malherbe Swart, 8 Jeandré Rudolph (c), 7 HP Swart, 6 Juan Language, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Stairs Mhlongo, 3 Panda Dekker, 2 Dane van der Westhuyzen, 1 Roan Grobbelaar.
Subs: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Kabelo Motaung, 18 Francois Robertse, 19 Marno Redelinghuys, 20 Jaco Jordaan, 21 Chriswill September, 22 Sandile Khubeka.
Griffons – 15 Selvyn Davids, 14 Vuyo Mbotho, 13 Tertius Kruger, 12 Japie Nel, 11 Warren Williams, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Boela Abrahams, 8 De Wet Kruger, 7 Boela Venter, 6 Vincent Maruping, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Gavin Annandale,3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Khwezi Mkhafu, 1 Danie van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Heinrich Roelfse, 18 Boela Serfontein, 19 Martin Sithole, 20 Louis Venter, 21 Joubert Engelbrecht, 22 Duan Pretorius.
Photo: Mario Wall/Gallo Images