Sport

UNION BLUES

Pumas and Griquas fight for relevance beyond the Currie Cup

Pumas and Griquas fight for relevance beyond the Currie Cup
Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse believes the so-called smaller unions deserve to play in an international competition. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Gallo Images)

After 14 matches in the Currie Cup, the Griquas will only play another match again next year. Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse believes his side and the Griquas need to play in an international competition to remain competitive.

In a replay of last year’s Currie Cup final, the Pumas and Griquas faced off in another do-or-die match last Friday.

The two historically smaller unions – in comparison with the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Western Province – put on an excellent showing of high-intensity, thrilling rugby.

But like last year, the Pumas overcame the Griquas at Windhoek Draught Park. The 27-17 win means the Pumas have qualified for the Currie Cup semifinal in third place on the log while the Griquas – who needed a win to qualify – finish their season in sixth place.

While Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse was a relieved man after the tightly fought victory, he expressed his disappointment at SA Rugby’s treatment of the “smaller” unions.

The Currie Cup is the only competition the Pumas and Griquas play in, so for about eight months in the year – besides pre-season – the teams sit idle.

We will always stay a feeder union, because the people only see the brand names from the top four, that’s what it is.

“If [SA Rugby] can get the Griquas and the Pumas something – we cannot play in the URC (United Rugby Championship) because we don’t have the funds, we don’t have the numbers – but there must be a competition somewhere out there where we can go and play and deliver more players to the bigger franchises, because that’s what it’s about,” Stonehouse said.

The coach recognised his union’s role as a feeder system to the bigger unions, but acknowledged that more game time throughout the year will help prepare players for when they do make a move to one of the URC sides. 

“I mean, how important of a role are these two unions? You know, there’s the four unions, the franchises, that SA Rugby pays a lot of attention to, while we are cast away,” Stonehouse added.

“We will always stay a feeder union, because the people only see the brand names from the top four, that’s what it is.”

Consequences

After 14 matches of the round-robin phase of the Currie Cup, the Griquas’ season is over while the Pumas have a semifinal against the Sharks in Durban and potentially a final the following week.

 After that, the next step is to prepare for next year’s Currie Cup season.

Hanru Sirgel of Griquas on the ball during the 2022 Currie Cup final against the Pumas at Windhoek Draught Park. The Pumas won 26-19. (Photo: EJ Langner / Gallo Images)

“If we keep on playing, like we play, only in the Currie Cup, we don’t get a good amount of money. We cannot even get our suites sold,” Stonehouse lamented.

“You only got that seven [home] games. And if they can keep it a double round of the Currie Cup and we get an international [competition], even if it’s in Asia or Germany… Like where the Cheetahs are playing. What is the opportunity for us?”

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The Cheetahs currently play in the EPCR Challenge Cup, the second-division European competition behind the Champions Cup.

“I mean, why can they play there and we cannot play there? Both the Pumas and the Griquas made their number the same as what the Cheetahs did. So, give us that opportunity.”

SA Rugby makes virtually no money from competitions outside of the URC and Springbok Test matches and currently run at a loss in other tournaments such as the Currie Cup.

There have since been calls to cull a few of the 15 unions in South Africa that SA Rugby maintain and only keep four or five with the best players in the country playing there, akin to the model used in Ireland.

Stonehouse, however, disagrees with that assessment.

“Some people think like in Ireland they have only four big [unions] that it’s supposed to be the same as in South Africa,” he said

“And if you want to break rugby down – if you kill the Pumas and the Griquas – that’s what will happen.”

A feeder system

What was essentially a quarterfinal match in the final round turned out to be a tactical arm-wrestle coupled with strong defence and enterprising attack.

Griquas flyhalf Lubabalo Dobela controlled the game maturely while Pumas centre Wian van Niekerk made a stunning break to clinch the game in the dying minutes for the men from Mbombela.

It will be no surprise to see the two youngsters at a bigger union in a few years.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Pumas’ slaughtering of the Bulls underlines how South African rugby’s strength is in its depth

“Pumas and Griquas play basically the same type of rugby. The scary part is we have no [big] names, and that’s the biggest thing for me, and that shows you the work that Griquas is doing with unknown players coming out of the Varsity Cup,” Stonehouse said.

“We do the same thing, and they become quality players, and then just the next year, boom, they’re gone… We definitely are the feeder systems.

“But the type of rugby we deliver, I think it’s great for South African rugby.

“If we can get [an international competition] it can build a brand for South African rugby.

“All the other players [who are discarded from bigger unions] can come to unions like us.”

After topping the Currie Cup log, the Cheetahs will face the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein while the Pumas travel to Kings Park to meet the second-placed Sharks. DM

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