Whitehead stars as Cinderella side Griquas reach Currie Cup semi-finals

A file photo of Griquas skipper George Whitehead (C) playing for the Southern Kings in Super Rugby (AFP Photo/DAVID ALEXANDER)
A file photo of Griquas skipper George Whitehead (C) playing for the Southern Kings in Super Rugby (AFP Photo/DAVID ALEXANDER)

Johannesburg (AFP) - Captain George Whitehead starred as Cinderella side Griquas became the first qualifiers for the South African Currie Cup semi-finals by defeating Western Province 27-23 Friday in central city Kimberley.

None of the team are contenders for places in the Springboks Rugby World Cup squad to be named on Monday August 26, and they are traditionally among the also-rans.

Coach Brent Janse van Rensburg is unknown internationally, never having been in charge of a Super Rugby or national team.

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The unexpected achievement means at least one of the 'big four' in South African rugby -- Bulls, Lions, Province and trophy-holders Sharks - will miss the knockout phase of the 128-year competition.

Fly-half Whitehead was voted man of the match after kicking 12 points and creating tries for wingers Ederies Arendse and Eduan Keyter.

"It was tough but we fought for 80 minutes and teamwork pulled us through," said Whitehead, the leading Currie Cup points scorer this season with 59.

"I and my team-mates are very proud at reaching the semi-finals after battling for many seasons and we look forward to our final league match (against the Golden Lions) with confidence."

Province skipper and lock Chris van Zyl blamed "a lack of patience and too many unforced errors" for a loss that leaves their semi-finals hopes in the balance.

Griquas have 19 points, Lions 15, Province 13, Free State Cheetahs 12, Sharks 10, Bulls nine and the Pumas seven ahead of matches this Saturday and Sunday and next weekend.

Griquas, whose last of three Currie Cup titles came 49 years ago, went ahead after only 105 seconds on a rock-hard pitch when a Whitehead tap penalty set up Arendse to score.

They retained the lead throughout the opening half before the biggest crowd of the season at the 11,000-capacity stadium and turned over with a 14-3 advantage.

Province, lacking several stars called up by the Springboks this week for a World Cup warm-up against Argentina, were first to score in the second half through a penalty from full-back SP Marais.

But Whitehead slotted a penalty and converted a second try by Arendse to give the Griquas a 24-11 lead midway through the half.

Former national sevens side star Seabelo Senatla scored his second try with 20 seconds remaining to snatch a losing bonus point for record 34-time Currie Cup champions Province.

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