Pumas Lowveld surprised friend and foe alike when they were crowned SARU Northern Sub-Union champions after a hard-fought 36-32 victory over hosts the Griffons in the final at the North West Stadium in Welkom.
Lowveld’s victory was doubly impressive considering the side had finished last in the corresponding tournament a year ago in Potchefstroom after losing all three of their matches. And in a unusual twist, defending champions the Golden Lions were this year unable to win a match and finished eighth.
“We’re ecstatic because nobody gave us a chance after what happened last year,” said coach Piet van Tonder, who was also in charge in 2011. “We only arrived with nine forwards but we were very motivated to show what we could do.”
Lowveld’s victory over the hosts was the climax of three days of action at the home of Griffons rugby, with the eight-team tournament featuring the best uncontracted northern-union players registered to non-premier league clubs.
Among Lowveld’s star performers were Nelspruit Rugby Club lock Gary Visagie, the son of former Springbok lock Rudi, and flanker Willem le Grange, who walked off with the forward of the tournament award. Among the backs, outside back Nicky Kritzinger scored four tries in the team’s first match and won two man-of-the-match awards.
Van Tonder said he hoped that Lowveld’s win would spark a revival in the fortunes of rugby in the region. “The players are so happy because we were really expected to lose like we've done in previous years,” he said. “It’s actually funny how things worked out, but the Pumas team were at home last week and so we were able to travel to Welkom in the official Puma bus, which really gave the players a boost. Now they can’t wait to get back on it for the drive back home!”
The corresponding SARU Sub-Union tournament for southern unions takes place from 3-7 September in the KZN South Coast town of Margate.
Griffons 32-36 Pumas Lowveld - (Cup Final)
Leopards 22-7 Limpopo Blue Bulls - (3rd/4th)
Valke 35-31 Blue Bulls - (Plate final)
Pumas 20-10 Golden Lions - (7th/8th)
Wednesday's results (semi-finals):
Valke 48-17 Pumas - (Plate)
Blue Bulls 23-22 Golden Lions - (Plate)
Griffons 33-26 Limpopo Blue Bulls - (Cup)
Pumas Lowveld 35-34 Leopards - (Cup)
Monday's results (Round 1):
Limpopo Blue Bulls 26-15 Pumas
Leopards 34-33 Blue Bulls
Golden Lions 29-32 Pumas Lowveld
Griffons 34-20 Valke