Ungerer: From unemployment to a Currie Cup Final
INTERVIEW: In January 2021 Stefan Ungerer was still ‘unemployed’ and unsure about his future. On Saturday he will be a key player in the Currie Cup Final.
Speaking to @king365ed, the seasoned scrumhalf spoke about a storied journey of the last decade that will see him feature for Griquas in a Currie Cup Final against the Pumas in Kimberley on Saturday.
Despite his looming departure to Cape Town – to join the Stormers on a two-year deal – the 28-year-old scrumhalf is determined to leave a ‘lasting memory’ in Kimberley.
It has been an ‘interesting’ journey for Ungerer – starting in Durban with the Sharks in 2013, followed by stints with the Pumas and Southern Kings.
However, prior to his arrival in Kimberley last year, he was a member of the Kings squad that was ‘retrenched’.
The Port Elizabeth-based team – who played in Super Rugby and the Pro14 – was disbanded in September 2020 after going into voluntary liquidation.
It left the players without employment – some finding alternative enlistment abroad and a few eventually recruited domestically.
He described his move to Kimberley as a “very good time”.
“It is a tough place to be training and playing,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “However, the guys made me feel welcome from the outset.
“I came from unemployment, after what happened at the Kings.
“I was very grateful when [then Griquas coach] Scott [Mathie] gave me a call [last year].
“I have really enjoyed my time and it has been awesome to be part of the squad here in Kimberley.
“With Kimberley not being a big city, the guys spend a lot of time together and we built a special bond.”
He said, after being at a few teams in the last decade, it was good to settle down in Kimberley for the last two years.
“It was tough at the outset, wanting to cement my place in the squad.
“Having had a bit of stability and now going forward, signing two years in Cape Town, it is good to settle down in one place.”
Griquas, like most smaller unions, has a high player turnover rate – being used as a ‘stepping stone’ for bigger deals.
However, the class of 2022 bought into the plan laid out by the coaching panel of Pieter Bergh and Barend Pieterse at the start.
“It is incredible what they brought to the table,” Ungerer told @rugby365com, adding: “There was some new on attack and some fresh voices.
“We set our goals at the start of the season and this weekend we have an opportunity to lift the big prize to cap the season off.”
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Despite the sideline chatter, especially from some of the bigger unions, Griquas still put winning the Currie Cup at a premium.
“There has been no chat here [in Kimberley] about it being diluted – as some of the reports suggested,” the scrumhalf said.
“It is still South Africa’s premier competition and still means a lot – whether it is the Pumas in the Final or a full-strength Bulls, Sharks, Cheetahs or whomever.
“It still means a hell-of-a-lot to us as a union and players.”
Ungerer said their exit at the semifinal stage in the last two seasons could be put down to a lack of ‘desire’ to go beyond.
“I almost feel we were happy just to make the semifinals as Griquas and excited we got there,” he said, adding: “No matter what the result was going to be, we were almost content to get into a knock-out game.
“However, the chat has been that it is just not good enough for Griquas anymore and we want to progress to the next level.
“This week we have an opportunity to play for the Cup.”