The Emerging Ireland squad have settled into camp in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where they will be challenged by a largely unknown opponent in Friday’s Toyota Challenge clash against the Griquas.
Nicknamed the ‘Peacock Blues’, Griquas are a team with a rich history dating back to the early days of South Africa’s long-running domestic competition, the Currie Cup, which they won in 1899 and 1911.
In more recent years, though, Griquas have become one of the relative ‘minnows’ in South African rugby, where heavyweights such as the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks are the domestic flag bearers in the newly-formed United Rugby Championship.
With limited resources and scarce financial clout, many players at Griquas have other forms of income and employment away from rugby, but by no means does this mean it’s a team that should be underestimated by Emerging Ireland.
Griquas have always had a tendency to punch above their metaphoric weight, as proven just this past year as they unexpectedly powered their way into a historic Currie Cup final against all odds.
In front of a crowd of over 10,000 people at their traditional home ground of Griqua Park in Kimberley, the Peacock Blues were ultimately outplayed by the Pumas in the title decider, but it was still a largely successfully season that would have instilled immense confidence in a group of unheralded Griquas players.
“I think we are building something special here,” coach Pieter Bergh commented. “The majority of this squad is staying here for the next two years. Hopefully, we can help them to reach their full potential. Boys became men this year. I am very proud of that. They have shown what can be done when people come together and work towards the same goal.
“The sky is the limit. There are a lot of good players who will leave us in the future and become top URC players. Some of them can become Springboks.”
This Griquas team will certainly relish an opportunity to test themselves against a talented Emerging Ireland outfit that features a host of players that have starred for Ireland at underage level and on the world sevens stage. The likes of Shane Daly and Robert Baloucoune have even won senior international caps for Ireland.
The visitors will still be confident of coming away with a victory in their opening Toyota Challenge fixture, but a young group of players should expect to be tested by a gutsy Griquas side that will have very little to lose.
The clash against Griquas will be followed by games against the Pumas and Cheetahs, all of which will be played at altitude in Bloemfontein, which will also present its own unique challenges. Furthermore, this Friday’s opening encounter will kick off at 1.45pm (local time), with temperatures expected to peak around 30° Celsius.