Griquas - the last of the Cinderellas

27 October 2010 - 02:49 By Archie Henderson

Forty years ago they played a Currie Cup final in Kimberley that marked the end of an era. It was the last time a Cinderella team won the cup - an outcome unlikely to happen again in this age of brutal professionalism where the rich prevail.

Even at the time of the Kimberley final, when it was against the spirit and the laws of rugby, provinces rewarded their players with money, status or jobs.

Northern Transvaal (not yet officially the Blue Bulls) had come to the diamond city as heavy favourites. They were a team built on the patronage of the army, air force, police, University of Pretoria and the civil service.

Against that, Griquas could throw in a few mining jobs but otherwise relied on dyed-in-wool Northern Cape men, like their captain, the legendary Springbok Mannetjies Roux.

Roux drove more than 300km from his farm in Victoria West to play. Others came similar distances from Kuruman and the Ammosal mine at Beeshoek, which employed the three other Springboks of the team, Piet Visagie, Piet van Deventer and Joggie Viljoen.

"We had only 17 players who were up to Currie Cup standard," recalls Ian Kirkpatrick, the coach.

Unusual for the time, Kirkpatrick's position at Griquas was a full-time one, which also skirted the limits of amateurism.

Kirkpatrick, who played 10 years for the Springboks, is often hailed as the mastermind of Griquas' win, but dismisses it today.

"We live too much in the past," he says, recalling how difficult it was to even arrange a team practice. "The players just lived too far apart," he lamented. "So we relied on the dedication, the confidence of the players.

"Game plans are all very well," he said, "but you must be able to score tries. We slowly built up a team that could score tries."

Griquas scored two tries that day in a packed De Beers stadium, both by the "baby" of the team, Buddy Swartz.

Many in that Griquas team were in their thirties and playing their last big game, but Swartz, a product of Kimberley Boys High, was 21 and had only returned to his home town to fulfil the terms of a De Beers bursary.

He'd been playing good rugby for the University of Cape Town, but mostly in the under-20s. Back in Kimberley, he was thrust into the Currie Cup team.

Swartz's tries came in the first half, but Northern Transvaal fought back. The game was in the balance until near the end, when Griquas flanker Peet Smit kicked a penalty from inside his own half to win the game 11-9.

"Piet Visagie usually took the kicks at goal," Swartz recalled last week. "But when they were out of his range, they gave it to Peet."

"He was the hero of the day," Roux remembers, possibly forgetting that he and centre partner Koos Waldeck had helped set up Swartz's first try.

The result of that final is still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in Currie Cup history, but it should not have been. It was six years in the making.

"From 1964, when we started to build a team, we lost very few games," Roux recalled. "By 1970 we still had 11 players who had started out with us. In every position we had players who were good, so it became easy to play together.

"I am often asked what the team's game plan was, but it was rather the approach to the game and the attitude of the players that counted."

Those players, except for lock Jannie van Aswegen and hooker James Combrinck, who have passed on, assembled last month at Beeshoek, the home of the Ammosal mine, which in 1970 symbolised the little guy in the clash against the giants of Pretoria. They braaied, had beers and shared stories about Saturday September 18, the exact date on which, 40 years before, they had made rugby history.

Kirkpatrick was not there. He had a game to play that afternoon.

Since 1997, when he started to coach at Stellenbosch University, he has not missed a practice, let alone a match. And that day, his Matie under-19s were busy winning another trophy.