The Valke looked in firm control as they went into the break 24-11 up, but two yellow cards in the second half – in the vital 10 minutes after half-time and then heading into the last 10 minutes – helped the Griffons stage an amazing comeback.
The Valke made an impressive start as left wing Sandile Ngcobo dashed over for an early try, flyhalf Juan Kotze’s conversion effort going astray and the 20-year-old limped off the field with an injury just five minutes later.
Griffons right wing Hansie Graaff then levelled the scores with a similarly fleetfooted effort, flyhalf Tiaan van Wyk failing to convert, but kicking a 17th-minute penalty to give the visitors an 8-5 lead.
Valke flank Marco Kotze used his power to muscle over the tryline in the 30th minute, and the Eastern Gautengers continued to build on their forward dominance with some slick ball-handling and support play to run in two more tries before half-time.
Fullback JW Bell and eighthman Reg Muller crossed the tryline to give the Valke a 24-11 half-time lead, a Van Wyk penalty being the only other points added to the Griffons’ tally before the break.
The Valke were playing highly attractive rugby, but hooker Shone van der Walt did little to promote their cause in the 10th minute of the second half when his dangerous tackle led to him being yellow-carded.
The one-man advantage – a tight forward at that – allowed the Griffons to get themselves back in the game.
A top-class forward drive three minutes later saw loosehead prop Charles Marais barge over for the second try and eighthman Willie Britz then scored a fine try just a minute later to bring the Griffons within a single point of the Valke (23-24).
The Valke were clearly rattled and, even though replacement flyhalf Karlo Aspeling kicked a penalty to settle their nerves a bit, the Griffons were on fire and the pressure eventually told on the home side as Muller was yellow-carded for repeated infringements in the breakdown battle.
Just a minute after Muller’s departure, Maarman broke free to score, Graaff converting to give the Griffons a 30-27 lead.
The free-running Maarman then made another break five minutes later to grab his second try, with Graaff adding the conversion among great celebrations by the Griffons, who won just twice in last year’s Currie Cup First Division and just once in this year’s Vodacom Cup.
The two second-half yellow cards really set the cat among the pigeons for the Valke, with the captain, Van der Walt, surely rueing the ill-discipline that saw his mistake turn the tide for the Griffons.
Valke – Tries: Sandile Ngcobo, Marco Kotze, JW Bell, Reg Muller. Conversions: Karlo Aspeling (2). Penalty: Aspeling.
Griffons – Tries: Hansie Graaff, Charles Marais, Willie Britz, Tertius Maarman (2). Conversions: Graaff (3). Penalties: Tiaan van Wyk (2).