Griquas are set to host the Currie Cup final for the first time since 1970 and they did so without a single player on Jacques Nienaber’s Springbok radar, reports DEVIN HERMANUS.
Griquas ambushed the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld to end a 52-year wait for tickets to the domestic decider, and they will meet another traditional minnow in the Pumas, who stunned the Cheetahs in the other semi-final.
Bulls coach Gert Smal caused a stir when he said the rise of the minnows reflected how the Currie Cup has been devalued, and he suggested that SA Rugby consider renaming the tournament to protect the memory of the world-renowned competition.
Speaking during a Bok media conference, Nienaber hailed the Pumas and Griquas for having showcased the depth of talent available in the country.
He also revealed how Bulls scrumhalf Zak Burger, who played in the inaugural URC final, was snapped up by the Pretoria outfit after Nienaber and SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus highlighted his performances for Griquas in the Currie Cup.
“I work closely with Rassie in keeping an eye on the PONI [players of national interest] players and there’s 100 of them in SA, and quite a few played in the semi-finals. The Pumas have one or two; Griquas don’t have at the moment but still look how well they did.” — Jacques Nienaber
Next season, Pumas skipper Willie Engelbrecht joins former Cheetahs loose forward Junior Pokomela and Griquas scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer in turning a successful loan spell at the Stormers into a two-year contract with the URC winners.
“I’m still very interested in the Currie Cup. Just the other day, Rassie and I spoke about Zak Burger. When he was still at Griquas, we did a bit of player analysis on him and were watching him,” Nienaber said.
“And then, in one of our online [coaches’] meetings, Rassie mentioned his name and a few weeks later, he was contracted to the Bulls, and now he’s someone who we are watching even closer.
“So, definitely, [the Currie Cup] is something that we watch closely, and if you look at the final this year between the Pumas and Griquas, it’s outstanding what they’ve done.
“If you look at the Pumas and Griquas as domestic franchises – the others are international – and if you look at their budgets and that they’re competing in the final, it speaks to the depth in SA.
“I also work closely with Rassie in keeping an eye on the PONI [players of national interest] players and there’s 100 of them in SA, and quite a few played in the semi-finals. The Pumas have one or two; Griquas don’t have at the moment but still look how well they did.
“I’m not saying the Cheetahs or Bulls did anything wrong [in the semi-finals] but it shows how much talent there is.”