Pirates Grand Challenge Trophy - the history and winners

Piratesbeker

The focus of this article is the history and performances of the Pirates Grand Challenge competition that started in 1889. 

History of the PGC trophy and the competition 

For now, let’s focus on where this trophy, one of the oldest in South Africa, came from.

Gustav Imroth, very actice in all sports on the Rand, presented the trophy to the newly establised Transvaal Rugby Football Union in 1889 for competition by rugby clubs playing on the Witwatersrand and in Pretoria.

There were a number of clubs around in the late 1880s

The origin of rugby in the then Transvaal largely is linked to the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. 

Like the mining towns that sprang up in other countries, Johannesburg was a rough and disorganized place. It was populated by white miners from other continents, African tribesmen who did the bulk of unskilled mine work, a very large number of European prostitutes, gangsters, impoverished Afrikaners and tradesmen. 

With few activities to occupy their spare time other than can-can girls and the rough pubs, many of the ‘newcomers’ to the City of Gold joined or formed clubs. 

In 1885 Potchefstroom Dorp was the first club to be formed. Then followed Rand Wanderers, Pirates, Pretoria (1888), May Consolidated, the latter becoming Diggers in 1894 when merging with Main Reef, and West Rand. West Rand later became Krugersdorp and then Harlequins.

Kaffrarians (later called Olympics and then Rovers), and in 2012 Pretoria, are the only two of these forerunners that did not survive. Harlequins now lives on after the recent amalgamation with Pretoria Police only a few weeks ago.

The Transvaal Rugby Football Union was formed in 1889, the same year as the SA Rugby Football Board. 

Pretoria Rugby Club, which became defunct in 2012, became the first Transvaal champions when they beat Pirates 1–0 in the final of the inaugural provincial club competition at the Wanderers grounds at Kruger Park in 1889. 

Pirates then won the Imroth Trophy, as it was originally called, five years in a row from 1890 to 1894. The trophy became theirs after their first hat-trick of wins, and they returned it to the Transvaal Rugby Football Union (forerunner of the Golden Lions Rugby Union) for purposes of the club competition that has since been known as the Pirates Grand Challenge Competition.

Pieter VisserWhen the Pirates Grand Challenge trophy went missing 

In a strange twist in the Pirates Grand Challenge trophy’s history Pirates Rugby Club, who once ensured the future of the cup, on another occasion seemed to have lost it forever. 

When the Greenside club beat the Pukke in Potchefstroom in the final of the Pirates Grand Challenge in 2001 the celebrations continued on their bus back to Johannesburg and into the night when they arrived in Johannesburg. 

It was only on Monday morning when they had to return the trophy handed them after the match, that the realisation came: the Pirates Cup, first played for in 1889 and which was on the bus, was nowhere to be found! 

The growing panic of the Pirates players and management was however unfounded. Good club manager that he is, the then Pirates club manager Pieter Visser (photo), now manager of amateur rugby at the GLRU, had taken care of the trophy – and calmly broke the news when, eventually, he was contacted.

Winners of the Pirates Grand Challenge trophy 

A look at the winners of the Pirates Grand Challenge shows that there is a good spread of winners through the years.

 It is also noticeable that Pirates, Diggers and Roodepoort have won the competition in “surges” – and the latest winners following this trend are the Pukke, who won the competition six times – five of them consecutively – in the first seven years after joining the Golden Lions leagues in 2002, and UJ who won it six times in the seven years between 2010 to 2016. 

Between these two university sides, they have 14 of the five titles from 2002, with Roodepoort spoiling a varsity full-house in 2014. 

Three clubs hold the record of five successive titles. Diggers achieved it twice (1895-1899 and 1958-62). The latter won the title 11 times in the 15 years from 1948-1962 and shared it once. 

Having lost it PGC status, Diggers languished in the Senior Grand Challenge Competition but are back in the PGC in 2017. 

The other two clubs are Pirates (1890-1894) and Pukke (2002-2006) while Roodepoort won the competition eight times in 10 years between 1985 and 1994. 

Diggers have been winners on 26 occasions and twice shared the trophy twice. 

transvaal rugby badgeThe club is also listed as having won the union’s one-off Senior Competition in 1915, but the history of the University of Pretoria Rugby Club by DH Heydenrych claims that Diggers won the Rand Division and Tukkies the Pretoria Division, with the students winning the final against Diggers at the Wanderers 14-12 to become the (all-over) Transvaal Champion. 

Winners –

1889 Pretoria
1890-1894 Pirates
1895-1899 Diggers
1900-1901 No competition (Anglo Boer War)
1902 Wanderers
1903 Diggers
1904 Pretoria
1905 Wanderers
1906 Mines
1907 Germiston
1908-1909 Diggers
1910 Germiston
1911-1913 ERPM
1914 Pirates
1915 Senior Competition:
Diggers (Rand champion), Tukkies (Pretoria & Transvaal champion)
1916-1918 No competition (World War I)
1919 Rebuild Competition:
Pretoria
1920 Pretoria
1921-1922 Simmer & Jack
1923 Pretoria & ERPM
1924 Pretoria
1925 Harlequins
1926-1972 Pretoria
1928 Harlequins
1929 Pretoria
1930 Harlequins
1931 Simmer & Jack
1932 Pretoria Police
1933 New State Areas
1934-1937 Pretoria Police
1937-1938 Springs
1939 New States Areas
1940-1945 No competition (World War II)
1946 Springs, Pirates, Brakpan
1947 West Rand
1948-1949 Diggers
1950 ERPM
1951 Diggers
1952 West Rand
1953-1955 Diggers
1956 Diggers & West Rand
1957 Westfield
1958-1962 Diggers
1963 Vereeniging
1964 Wesrand
1965 Wesrand & Vereeniging
1966 Diggers
1967 Wits University
1968 Diggers
1969 Vereeniging
1970 Diggers
1971 Vereeniging
1972 Vereeniging & Diggers
1973 Germiston-Simmer
1974-1975 Diggers
1976 Germiston-Simmer
1977 Diggers
(Trek Competition)
1978 Diggers
1979 RAU & Alberton
1980-1981 RAU
1982 Alberton
1983 Alberton & Wanderers
1984 RAU
1985 Roodepoort
1986 RAU
1987-1990 Roodepoort
1991 RAU
1992-1994 Roodepoort
1995-1996 RAU
1997-1998 Pirates
1999 Randfontein
2000 RAU
2001 Pirates
2002-2006 NWU Pukke
2007 University of Johannesburg
2008-2009 NWU Pukke
2010-2012 University of Johannesburg
2013 Roodepoort (No final played)
2014-2016 University of Johannesburg
2017-NWU Pukke

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