Griqualand West has had a big share in the building of South African rugby.
The role that Griqualand West played in the development of the game in South Africa can never be over-emphasised.
Along with Cape Town, Kimberley was the unofficial headquarters of South Africa Rugby - and according to available records, the first inter-town match in South African rugby was between Kimberley who traveled to play Bloemfontein on July 22, 1881 – the first "tour," undertaken and the forerunner of many future tours through many generations!
There is no doubt that Griquas, with this little 100 mile tour, set the pace and they were the undoubted pioneers of touring in South Africa.Griquas also boast a number of other firsts.
-the first inter-provincial competition:
a tournament was held in Kimberley in 1885
-the first Currie Cup tournament was played there in 1891
-the first try scored by South Africa in a test match was by Theo Samuals of Griquas – and it was scored in Kimberley in the second test against the 1891 touring side of Bill Maclagan.
-the SA Coloured Football Union (later the SA
Rugby Union) had its birth in Kimberley in 1896
-the amalgamation of the various rugby bodies on 20 March 1992 came about after a meeting in Kimberley and Percy Ross Frames, a Kimberley man, was the first president of the SA Rugby Football Union which was founded in Kimberley in 1889.
That first tour match previously referred to was played on the grounds of the Bloemfontein Cricket Club and was won by Kimberley, who scored five tries and kicked a drop goal.
Tafel Lager Park, Kimberley
Unofficial matches – as they were all in those days - against Beaconsfield kept the Kimberley team in shape, and in 1884 the Diamond fielders accepted an invitation from Western Province to tour to Cape Town for a tour of seven matches.
It took the team a week to get to Cape Town.
The 24-man team travelled by mule-wagon to De Aar, where they arrived 60 hours later.
From there they would proceed by train.
The first match was played on Thursday, August 7, 1884. The opposition was picked from the civil servant players in the region.
Two days later, the Kimberley side were beaten by Villagers before a huge crowd.
Villagers' points consisted of a goal and a try (four points).
Matches against a combined side, Woodstock/Gardens and a colleges side followed - and then came the main match of the tour: against Union on August 16.
This was the highlight of the tour, as Union was selected from 11 clubs.
It was, in a way, the first match between Griquas and Western Province, and Kimberley had to use reinforcements because of injuries sustained in their previous matches.
One more game, against the first winner of the Grand Challenge Trophy, Hamiltons, followed, with the oldest club in South Africa winning by a goal to a try (3-1).
Griquas were present at the first inter-district tournament, held during the Grahamstown Show of 1885.
This time Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown joined Kimberley and Cape Town in the fun, and four sides contested the forerunner of the future Currie Cup.
In the first final of Griquas' Grand Challenge Competition, the trophy was awarded to West End, despite complaints by losers, Beaconsfield to the GWRFU committee about the validity of the only try in the game.
The committee ruled that the result should stand.
The final also brought South Africa's first known rugby death, after Alfred.
Schlemmer of West End was tackled on his way to the tryline. He died in hospital a week after the match.
Kimberley wanderlust continued. They visited Cape Town again in 1886 and 1888, and in 1890 combined with their great adversaries Pirates for another trip to the Mother City.
It was during the 1888 visit of Kimberley to Cape Town that Percy Ross Frames suggested that a national body be established to control rugby in the whole of South Africa, and that a regular competition between provincial sides should be instituted.
The Craven Hotel in Kimberley was where the SA Rugby Football Board was formed in 1989, and Percy Ross Frames became the first president by virtue of the agreement that the union where the meeting was held would appoint the chairman.
The new chairman proposed that a Board competition be held in the same year - and so it happened that Griquas, Western Province, Transvaal and Eastern Province contested the first provincial trophy in the country.
The first match was between Western Province and Eastern Province, and was played in Kimberley on August 28, 1889 - a little more than a month after the Griquas trials were held to select the side for the tournament.
The first of the many matches between Western Province and Griquas was played on the third day of the tournament and was won by Province (6-2).
Although the two sides were tied at the top of the log, this result gave the first official trophy in South Africa to Western Province, according to the rules of the tournament.
The first Currie Cup in 1892 - also held in Kimberley – followed after the golden trophy was handed over to Griquas in 1891 by the British touring side of Bill Maclagan. Griquas were adjudged the best side that the British side had played against on their 20-match tour.
Griquas then presented the trophy to the SA Rugby Football Board – and so started the most oldest and famous domestic competition in the world.
In the 1892 Currie Cup round-robin, a courageous Griquas side was denied by Western Province, who were regarded as runaway favourites.
The score was 5-2, and the first Currie Cup title went to Western Province, who would retain it for the next five tournaments.
Griquas' strength and depth started dwindling and was not as good as in earlier years.
Many players had migrated to the Witwatersrand in search of the riches there.
Griquas remained a relative force, however.
In 1899 Griquas were the "real" winners of the Currie Cup, but some of the gloss was taken off their first title by the withdrawal of Province and Transvaal from the tournament.
Good performances in 1910's friendlies pointed to great future deeds - and so it turned out to be in 1911, when the tournament was played in Cape Town at Newlands and at Green Point.
Free State held Griquas to a draw and then the men from Kimberley beat Natal, North Easterns, Transvaal and ultimately Western Province, to secure the trophy for the second time.
This victory was probably just as impressive and important to Griquas rugby as the 1970 win against Northern Transvaal in Kimberley, when Griquas were again not given a snowball's chance to win.
In pouring rain, they beat Western Province 12-0 - the first loss for Western Province in 46 matches that also included two draws.
It was the first time WP lost a Currie Cup tournament in which they had played.
Griquas' breakthrough was just that: a solitary win with a sequence of average and even poor placings in the next five tournaments to follow.
A slight resurgence saw them recover to third place in 1929, but then they faded and ended last from eight sides in 1934 and second from the bottom in 1936.
Griquas' next great performance, an unforgettable day in their history, came in 1970.
It followed a building process of eight years, after the former Griquas Springbok Ian Kirkpatrick, who had played his final international rugby the year before, returned from Bloemfontein to Kimberley.
Tos Smith, who played fullback in that memorable 1970 win, says it was not a one-match wonder. "We started building seven seasons before," he emphasised.
Seven of the winning side retired after the win, many of them getting on in playing years.
Kirkpatrick, one of South Africa's greatest coaches of all time, was the man behind the selection of his former Springbok team mate Mannetjies Roux for the side.
Roux was captain in that match in which Tos Smith's brother Peet, playing at flank, kicked a monster against the wind in the dying minutes to upset the odds and a very good Northern Transvaal side.
Distances were an even greater problem than it is today, and the team had only 10-12 training sessions in a year, when many of them would travel hundreds of miles to play their Currie Cup matches.
The training was done on Friday nights, the only session since the match before !
in recent years, Griquas, always a force in the Vodacom Cup competition, has won the trophy FIVE times since its inception in 1998, the last win being in 2014 when they beat defending champions, Golden Lions at GWK Park, Kimberley.
Generally, their track record over the years, since the inception of competitive rugby in South Africa, should have been a warning: never underestimate Griquas!
After all, they have three Currie Cup titles on their record, as well as two semi-finals, and they've won a number of Sport Pienaar and other national competition trophies over the years in addition to the Vodacom Cup titles mentioned.
Both their Currie Cup semi-finals were played in Kimberley, when Western Province won 20-15 at the De Beers Stadium in 1979 and repeated the dose at Hoffe Park in 1998 (27-11).
Many Springboks were produced in Griquas, the latest being winger Bjorn Basson who set a Currie Cup try-scoring record of 22 tries in the 2010 season, Riaan Viljoen, Devon Raubenheimer, and currently Willie Le Roux 2013 season.