Bragging rights high on mates’ agenda for final
When they were kids, Juandre Rudolph and De Wet Kruger used to go hammer and tongs at each other in backyard rugby in their native Oudtshoorn. Now the two loosies get to do it for real for the iCollege Pumas and Tafel Lager Griquas, respectively, in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge final.
While it won’t be the first time they’ve played competitive rugby against each other – Kruger and his younger brother, Toyota Free State XV centre Tertius, were in the Shimlas team that beat Rudolph’s Pukke in the 2015 Varsity Cup final – the stakes are that much higher this time around.
For starters Sunday’s final will be played at the Bridgton Sports Grounds in Oudtshoorn, meaning the two will be playing for bragging rights in front of old friends and family. Add the R500,000 prize-money on offer to the winner and the fact that Rudolph lost the last final and there’s a fair bit on the line.
Rudolph, who was last in Oudtshoorn when the Pumas had a bye to visit his father Gerrit, the Oudtshoorn High School deputy principal who was also Kruger’s coach, said he had been excited to find out he was going back home for the final.
“I was really excited when I first heard because it would be nice to see some old friends again, let alone play in front of them,” said the openside flanker. “I played at Bridgton when I was in primary school and one or two games against Bridgton Senior Secondary about eight years ago.”
Kruger, whose parents moved with him and his brother to Bloemfontein when they finished school, said it was more mixed feelings that he felt at going back: “I played a lot of school games there so it would be nice to play in front of old friends from school.”
While Kruger said the two hadn’t exchanged pleasantries about the upcoming game, Rudolph said he was almost looking forward more to the beer than the game against the Griquas utility loose-forward, who has played openside flank as well as the other two positions in the loose-trio.
“It’s always nice to play against old friends,” said Rudolph. “Obviously during the game it’s tough and you do whatever you have to do to win. But after the game you visit each other in the change-room and have a few beers together. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Coming from Oudtshoorn, both had to travel far and wide to become professional rugby players – Rudolph via a bursary to Pukke, and Kruger after snubbing the shotput and discus in athletics in favour of rugby in Bloemfontein.
Looking at the final, Kruger said Griquas weren’t putting pressure on themselves to win just because it was their second final in a row: “I think if we put pressure on ourselves it’ll take the fun out of it. Obviously as professional rugby players there is pressure, but we need to execute the gameplan and let the rest take care of itself.”
Rudolph said reaching the final unbeaten in 10 games had given them a shot in the arm about their capabilities: “It’s given us a bit of confidence because we know that the gameplan works and that we’ve put in the hard yards.
“But Griquas are also a very good team who did well to make the final coming from a tough pool which prepared them for the knockout stages, even though past results in making the final won’t matter because it’s about who pitches up on the day and handles the pressure.”