The Pumas beat Griquas to claim their first Currie Cup title and complete a fairytale final between two of South Africa’s smallest unions in Kimberley on Saturday afternoon.
The men from Nelspruit dug deep to win the battle of SA’s underdogs at Griqua Park in front of 10,988 spectators, who were largely cheering for the home side making their first appearance in the competition’s final in 52 years.
Known for posing a threat with ball in hand, Jimmy Stonehouse’s charges outscored the hosts three tries to one, but it was their heroic defence in the second half – after taking a nine-point lead into the break – that clinched them a 26-19 victory in their first appearance in the final of the sport’s oldest competition.
The Pumas had less of the possession in the first half but capitalised on their opportunities thanks to their trademark attacking play on the counter, while also employing a smart territorial game.
Stadium speaker issues for the broadcast of the national anthem delayed kickoff, and there were understandably nerves from both teams in the first quarter, with errors creeping in at lineout time while several kicks flew over the dead-ball line.
The first points of the final went to the Pumas via inside centre Eddie Fouche, who stroked the ball over from in front of the sticks.
Griquas quickly drew level through the boot of fullback George Whitehead, who nailed his second attempt from the kicking tee to give the hosts the lead for the first time in the match on the 20-minute mark.
But, Pumas fullback Devon Williams finished off a scintillating attacking move for his seventh try of the season in his 50th Currie Cup appearance, and Fouche added the extras, for a four-point advantage to the visitors.
The flags went up on another strike from Whitehead to close the gap to one point for Griquas, only for Fouche to reply with his second penalty of the opening stanza, before hooker Eduan Swart barged over for an unconverted touchdown as the Pumas went into half time with an 18-9 lead.
A breakout try just after the break from Williams was reversed on a TMO referral for a forward pass in the buildup, yet the Lowvelders did stretch their lead with another clinical penalty from Fouche.
But, there were no questions asked after Pumas skipper and man-of-the-match Willie Engelbrecht touched down out wide following some strong phase play, and it left the home fans as stunned as the Griquas players.
Swart crucially pilfered possession at the ruck five metres from the Pumas tryline with the hosts on the attack, but his error at a subsequent lineout ended in a blistering try for Griquas right wing Munier Hartzenberg. Whitehead converted to set up an exciting closing 20 minutes.
Defence wins matches and that is precisely what the Pumas did for the final quarter as a desperate Griquas outfit threw everything at the visitors in trying to salvage a comeback.
Whitehead struck the posts as three points went abegging for the Peacock Blues, yet his next attempt was successful to make it a seven-point game at the death, but it was all in vain as history was made in the Northern Cape.
— Carling Currie Cup (@TheCurrieCup) June 25, 2022