The Sharks are owed one
Putting patriotism aside, there have been times this week where I have wondered if a Chiefs win in Saturday’s Super Rugby final in Hamilton would not be the right result.
Looking at it objectively, the team finishing second on the overall log after four and a half months of league competition would be better justice than the trophy going to the side that finishes sixth.
If you disagree, imagine for a moment that English soccer’s Premier League was run on similar lines, and that at the end of the season the sixth ranked team got to play the side that finished top, as happened last week in Cape Town. Ironically, it would have pitted Chelsea against Manchester City, and for my money Chelsea, like the Sharks in Super Rugby, were the form team in the last few weeks.
But would Chelsea usurping City, and cancelling out all their hard work over many months, in a one-off game, have been seen as right? Probably not, and even some of the Sharks coaches admitted to me after last week’s semifinal that they felt sorry for the Stormers on the basis that the Cape team, along with the Chiefs, had been the most consistent side in the competition – and by some distance.
The Chiefs have lost more games over the duration of the competition than the Stormers had before last week’s semifinal, so it is not as lopsided going into the final as it was before the Newlands match, where a team that had lost six games was playing against one that had lost just two.
And the Sharks have already managed to complete two thirds of a miracle to get this far, and as I wrote at the start of the Finals Series, they would deserve the trophy if they overcame the almost insurmountable travel obstacle to win it. But even then, I would still wonder if it was fair… So those, for the record, are my misgivings. It is when the darkest day in Sharks history gets thrown up out of the deeper recesses of my memory bank that those questions about the fairness of the system get swept aside, for if the Sharks do win in Hamilton there will be an element of justice to the result in the sense that it will make up for the one that got away.
The day in May 2007 when the Sharks celebrated becoming the first South African team to win the Super 14, only to have Bryan Habana steal it from them at the death in the midst of what can only be described as a stunned silence, should be remembered by all Sharks fans who were tempted to label the Stormers chokers last weekend.
Coaches Dick Muir and John Plumtree had already hugged one another and congratulated each other on winning the Super 14 when a bizarre sequence of errors, some of them from the referee Steve Walsh, who happens to be the referee again on Saturday, led to implosion.
As a Sharks supporter mate said to me afterwards, remembering that the Sharks had scored what they thought was the match-clinching try through Albert van den Berg with just a few minutes left, “I have never felt so high and then so low in such a short space of time”.
I felt like that too. It didn’t seem like justice was seen to be done that day. The normal festive feeling in the Kings Park car-park that doubles as a braai area that night was noticeably absent, and the only bit of positive noise to come out of the gloom came in the form of a group of inebriated Bulls supporters, who late that evening took a stroll around the outer fields singing at the top of their lungs.
I was with Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford at the time, and to his credit he went across and shook some of the Bulls supporters by the hands.
“You have to give them credit,” he said when the pleasantries were over, “they had to travel to an away venue to win the trophy, and that takes some doing.”
And then he added the words that have started to repeat themselves as Saturday’s game nears: “I would like to do that. I would like us to win it the hard way”.
Well, the Sharks have the opportunity to do that in Hamilton, and while they will start as overwhelming underdogs, they are a lot closer to touching the trophy now than they have been at any other time since that moment when Muir and Plumtree embraced each other in the final minutes in 2007.
I don’t expect it to happen, but a Sharks victory in the final would be a sweet moment indeed. They are owed one.