The Currie Cup trophy. (Supplied)
Cape Town – Forty-nine years ago, the world was a very different place.
The year 1970 was notable for the breakup of The Beatles, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet officially entering service, and a record estimated 600,000 people attending the largest ever rock event, the Isle of Wight Festival, featuring Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
Closer to home, South Africa was in the severest grips of apartheid under Prime Minister John Vorster, something illustrated in just one sense by Winnie Mandela being placed under house arrest.
Oh yes, and Griqualand West won that year’s Currie Cup.
While it was their third triumph (prior ones had come in particularly distant 1899 and 1911), it was also the final occasion in which the trophy has gone to Kimberley … and also the last title success to this date for one of the more “minor” unions in South Africa.
Which is exactly what makes a glance at the Currie Cup 2019 table, with several participants having reached the two-thirds mark in their ordinary-season rosters, unusually intriguing.
It shows Griquas – one of those having completed four of their six assignments – at the top, even if both the Lions and Free State Cheetahs could narrowly overhaul them (Griquas are on a bye) with respective wins over the Blue Bulls and Sharks this weekend.
But that would still leave the unfashionable central province in with a tantalising chance, especially if they were to win both or possibly even just one of remaining matches – handily Kimberley-scheduled each time, too – for them against Western Province and then the Lions.
Both will be fairly tall orders, it is true … but then the same could probably be said to have applied when, for instance, Brent Janse van Rensburg’s inspiringly punching-above-weight charges visited Durban and smashed the Sharks 37-13, and gave almost exactly the same treatment to the Bulls much more recently in Pretoria, prevailing 37-15 and again with a bonus point in tow.
They are averaging almost four tries a game, even if it must be said that their “tries against” is an unflattering 17 from the four outings — mainly because of their significant, lone-defeat Bloemfontein blip against the Cheetahs, who ran in 10 tries against them in a 68-14 outcome.
Apart from that one horror story against their neighbours, though, Griquas have been eye-openingly competitive thus far, including currently sporting the competition’s leading points-scorer (47) in widely-travelled captain and utility back George Whitehead.
Experiencing their run-in on the rock-hard surface of Tafel Lager Park, where few visiting sides traditionally travel with special relish, gives them a real chance of advancing to a home semi-final … and potentially even another red-letter date there for the showpiece on September 7.
If that were to occur, and admittedly it remains a longish shot, it would instantly trigger a wave of nostalgia among more veteran members of the community in Kimberley and surrounds.
That last 1970 trophy triumph, after all, remains one of the most iconic in the domestic tournament’s prestigious history, a significant case of a platteland David felling a major urban Goliath, if you like.
Albeit led by an iconic rugby figure in the shape of now 80-year-old Springbok former centre Mannetjies Roux, who apparently used to drive more than 300km to training from hometown Victoria West, Griquas were anything but favourites for their home final against mighty Northern Transvaal, featuring a galaxy of heavyweight names like Frik du Preez, Thys Lourens and Piet Uys.
But it is irreversibly etched in the annals that they sneaked the honours 11-9, aided by Peet Smith’s late, long-range penalty to decide the contest and spark wild jubilation in the small-scale metropolis: apparently the trophy was put on display for months in a local branch of the former SA Perm building society and gawped at with awe.
Don’t rush out to the betting shop to lump too much dosh on a Griquas 2019 title win just yet.
But the plucky, not exactly superstar-laden men from the “Big Hole” are busy teeing themselves up quietly for a good old crack at it, aren’t they?
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing