The SuperSport Rugby Challenge final between the Pumas, and Tafel Lager Griquas in Saldanha on Sunday might be a repeat of last year – when the two sides contested the final in Oudtshoorn with Pumas winning – but that is one of the few unchanged aspects of the SSRC in 2019.
The 2019 tournament saw a newcomer in Zimbabwe Academy – playing out of False Bay Rugby Club in Constantia – as well as a new format with eight teams each split into the North and South Sections. It also delivered new venues (and then some!) to all contestants, with games played from Paternoster on the West Coast to KwaNyamazane in the northeast corner of South Africa.
A first ever final (and Rugby Festival) in the Transnet Saldanha Stadium on Sunday will add another feather in the cap for all concerned and for the referee, Ben Crouse, another box ticked in what has proved to be a globe-trotting year.
Crouse in February and March took charge in a number of matches in the USA Major League Rugby (MLR) competition, which prepared him well for the travels he undertook in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge this year.
“I officiated in games in Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Seattle, Denver, New York, Houston and San Diego in that time and travelled over 68 hours on 18 flights in doing so,” Crouse recalled.
“It was taxing on the body, but a great experience for which I am truly grateful. I learned many new thing, including refereeing a game in a snow blizzard,” he smiled.
Back home, the Bloemfontein-based Crouse then took to the road for many of his SSRC assignments.
“We don’t have that many flights out of Bloemfontein, so rather than having to fly to Johannesburg to transit from there, I took to the road and drove to many of the matches. I drove from Bloemfontein to Durban, to East London and even to Nelspruit, where the same two teams met in a North Section clash,” Crouse said.
That match would serve as a guideline for Crouse, but Sunday will bring different challenges, he said.
“I got the players buy-in that day, so don’t think much will change. I also spoke to both coaches, so understand their points of view. The pressures of a final will have an impact on the two teams I suppose, as both desperately want to win this, but from past experience, I think it could be a great final match.”
The Pumas director of Rugby, Jimmy Stonehouse, said of that match in Nelspruit: “I don’t know if playing them and beating them during the round-robin stages makes us favourites, but it does give us belief that we can win.”
Opposing coach, Brent Janse van Rensburg, was in charge of the Pumas last year when they outplayed Tafel Lager Griquas 32-30 to win the title at the Bridgton Sports Grounds, so is in the strange position of defending a trophy he won with the opposition.
“On the day we have to arrive and execute,” was his assessment of the task ahead.
· Crouse will take charge of his third SA Rugby final on Sunday. In 2017, he officiated the Currie Cup First Division final between Down Touch Griffons and Valke and last year, he was the man in the middle in the SA Rugby Provincial Under-21 final between the Vodacom Blue Bulls and Xerox Golden Lions.
· De-Jay Terblanche will become the most capped front-rower in the history of first class rugby in South Africa and will play in his 192th match at prop.
Referee: Ben Crouse
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni, Quinton Immelman
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
The teams are:
Tafel Lager Griquas: Anthony Volmink, Ederies Arendse, Michal Haznar, Andre Swarts, Enver Brandt, George Whitehead (c), Zak Burger, Will Wilson, Sias Koen (v/c), Gideon van der Merwe, Victor Sekekete, Ian Groenewald, Ewald van der Westhuizen, AJ le Roux, Khwezi Mona. Replacements: Khwezi Mkhafu, NJ Oosthuizen, Johan Momsen, Conway Pretorius, Chriswill September, Tinus de Beer, Eduan Keyter.
Pumas: Devon Williams, Morne Joubert, Neil Maritz, Ryan Nell (c), Ruwellyn Isbell, Chris Smith, Reynier van Rooyen, Willie Engelbrecht, Phumzile Maqondwana, Jeandre Rudolph, Cameron Lindsay, Stefan Willemse, Marne Coetzee, Corniel Els, Andrew Beerwinkel. Replacements: Marko Janse van Rensburg, De-Jay Terblanche, Carel du Preez, Marco Palvie, Hilton Lobberts, Ashlon Davids, Henko Marais.