In a press box at Newlands
August 2, 2012 Leave a comment
For a South African rugby writer that is not domiciled in the Cape, there really is no finer place to be than in a press box in Newlands when the local team, inevitably, has choked in a big match.
In a word it is ‘beautiful’. Alright, I accept that I am being triumphalist but, honestly, you had to be in the Western Cape in the build-up to last week’s semi-final to fully appreciate just how much it was taken for granted that the Stormers would be hosting the Chiefs in a Super Rugby final on Saturday.
The thing is, no rugby team of consequence from the Cape has won anything since Western Province beat the Sharks in the Currie Cup final in 2001.
Eleven years is a long time and the weight of expectation is heavy on the shoulders of the leadership of the Stormers.
As subdued as the media were after having been so ridiculously expectant, one felt sorry for captain Jean de Villiers at the post-match press conference.
He looked on the verge of bursting into tears. De Villiers said: “Once again we are in this situation. And you have to start asking questions of yourself and the leadership group as to why this keeps on happening. I don’t know where to look. It is just so hard to take and yet we have to accept that the Sharks deserved the win.”
Magnanimous words from a gracious captain.
Yet the Sharks really did deserve to win. They played to a plan, and it came off. They knew that jet lag would hit them in the second half and they would have no way of hitting back if they were, say, 10 points behind at half time or going into the final quarter.
The feeling was that as the game drew to a conclusion, they simply had to have a cushion that they could then defend for their lives. Which is precisely what happened.
Coach John Plumtree made the observation that this was a match the Sharks would not have won a few months ago but did because of the catalyst that was the shocking loss to the last-placed Lions in early June.
Prior to that match the Sharks had done the hard yards by beating the Stormers in Durban to cap a four-match winning streak that included home wins against the Highlanders and Western Force and also an away win against the Cheetahs.
And then came the no-show against the Lions. And in its wake came a meeting called by Plumtree with the senior players where he told them in no uncertain terms that they were not delivering.
He was right, and the positive result for the Sharks is that the Big Name players have been producing ever since. For instance the front row of the Du Plessis brothers and The Beast have been astonishing while a backline player in JP Pietersen has really come to the fore.
But will they all come through against the Chiefs? In a word, “ No”.
This will be a bridge to far for the Sharks. Their real final was beating the Stormers at Newlands last weekend. That was a feat almost beyond human expectation give that they had to twice traverse the Indian Ocean to play the Stormers and beat the defending champion Reds in between.
Now, travelling all the way back to Australasia unfortunately takes the Sharks out of the picture. It is just too much travel when you are up against such a good Chiefs side.
The Chiefs will win by 10 to 20 but that won’t detract from a brilliant Sharks effort in coming from sixth to make the final.
By Mike Greenaway