Luther Obi says there is still plenty of pride from a player’s point of view to lifting the Currie Cup after the wing rediscovered his best form to help Griquas progress to their first final in over 50 years. DYLAN JACK reports.
Griquas reached their first Currie Cup final since 1970 when flyhalf George Whitehead scored a try and kicked 13 points to beat the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. Griquas scored 24 points in the second half as the visitors shocked the defending champions 30-19.
Bulls coach Gert Smal sparked a debate over the tournament when he said SA rugby bosses must consider shelving the “devalued” Currie Cup after Griquas romped to victory at Loftus.
For Obi, however, winning one of the oldest premier domestic competitions in the world would be the highlight of his career.
“There has been a lot of deliberation over the last couple of weeks about the Currie Cup. As far as I am concerned, that’s all white noise,” Obi said. “The Currie Cup is still the oldest local trophy that you can win. It’s a trophy that any union would be proud to have in their cabinet.
“From my perspective, Saturday is the biggest game of my life. I want to lift the trophy. It’s the Currie Cup. You look at the history, there has always been a Currie Cup champion and nobody can take that away from you.”
After a sluggish start to the season, Obi has hit a rich run of form, scoring a crucial four tries in two season-defining matches against the Cheetahs and Western Province.
The 29-year-old formed a deadly partnership with Seabelo Senatla for the Junior Springboks in 2013, scoring 11 tries between them, but has had a journeyman career since, representing all of the Leopards, Eastern Province Kings, Cheetahs, Bulls and Pumas, but never managing more than a couple of seasons at any of the unions.
“I think the culture here is very set in its ways in the sense that the players have the opportunities. Being a smaller union, players get more opportunities than they would at a lot of other unions,” Obi said. “Just being given those opportunities can help. The culture under coach Pieter has really allowed us to blossom. We are playing good rugby, we have relatively free roles as wings, so it’s a good place to express yourself as a player and showcase your talents.
“Sometimes it’s just opportunity that separates you from reaching the level that you want to be back on. It takes a few games to get back into the swing of things. I’ve been fortunate to be given that opportunity, I will be playing my 14th consecutive game [on Saturday]. I’ve had a couple of injuries at the wrong time. Just when I started to get some form, I got an injury and had a bit of a setback. So, it’s very good right now to be playing consistently and given the opportunity under coach Pieter’s gameplan to express myself and have a free role as a wing.”
Born in Aba, Nigeria, Obi’s family moved to South Africa when he was a child and he attended St Benedict’s College in Bedfordview, but he is still very proud of his roots.
“Rugby is bigger than us as individuals. So if we can help inspire any youngster – whether they are from West Africa, North Africa or South Africa – I think that’s the most important thing. This game is going to be alive way after we are gone, so it’s important to leave a legacy and inspire, even if it’s just one youngster to pick up a rugby ball. You never know, he could be the reason why the Springboks win the World Cup.
“As a Nigerian, it is very special to me to represent my country. I am very proud to be a Nigerian rugby player.”
Griquas progressed to the final by playing some expansive rugby, picking up eight bonus points and scoring 48 tries and 383 points.
The previous clash between the two finalists ended with Griquas claiming a 45-44 win in Mbombela, and Obi reiterated that the hosts have no plans to change the way they play on Saturday.
“That’s definitely the plan. It’s a final and we have to make it enjoyable for everybody, including the spectators. We are not going to be in our shells. That’s guaranteed. It is finals rugby, so you do have to take the points when you can, but we are going out there to express ourselves and have fun. Nothing changes there.
“It has been a great experience at Griquas, we have a great culture here. It will be a special day in the history of this proud union on Saturday. Everybody is excited.”
Photo: ©Shaun Roy/BackpagePix