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A good result for SA rugby

So the Currie Cup won’t be spending Christmas in Durban after all! I am writing this from King Shaka International Airport on Monday morning and according to the staff here the old trophy was spotted being transported through here by Allister Coetzee and his mob 24 hours ago, and they were heading for Cape Town.

It’s been a long time since this airport has seen a happy rugby-orientated Capetonian, but apparently the scenes here on Sunday made up for it. So miracles do happen, Currie Cup finals continue to produce astounding upsets, and the Durban vervet monkeys are nervous about the newcomers that were slung from the backs of the WP players at about 7pm on Saturday evening. Instead of accumulating rust in the KZN humidity, the Currie Cup is going to be buffeted by the Cape South Easter.

As I wrote beforehand, I wanted the Sharks to win on the basis that they were the most consistent Currie Cup team, and they topped the log whereas WP only finished third in a six team competition. I would still argue that on that basis Province aren’t the top team – they’ve actually lost four in six against the Sharks this year – but they produced when it mattered and, in the end, like was the case when the Sharks won in Cape Town in August, that is all that matters.

There was no denying that WP were the better team in the final, and what was astounding was that it was by quite some distance. They were certainly better than a seven point victory and by the end it was impossible not to get in behind them and share their joy at a remarkable triumph. Remember this was an under-strength Province side because of injuries, while the Sharks were much closer to Super Rugby muster.

Full marks to Coetzee and his staff for learning from mistakes made in playoff games in the past, and the youth culture at WP is certainly reaping dividends.

The result was a good one for South African rugby in the sense that finally winning a trophy after 11 years should get the WP administrators off the backs of the coaches and support staff, and the country does need Province to be strong. Had this win happened here in 2010, the real architect of the WP resurgence to a union that consistently challenges for trophies, Rassie Erasmus, would still be in charge. The win only makes the mind boggle even more that WP allowed Erasmus to leave.

But while WP are right to be joyful, I am not sure the Sharks should feel too upset about it all. They remain the better bet for Super Rugby success next year. They have the depth, and maybe the loss in the final was a good thing for them. It’s not as if they haven’t won the Currie Cup recently, and with no monkeys anywhere near their backs, the defeat in the domestic decider was no train smash.

They have managed to get out of the Currie Cup what should be intended, which is the development of awesome depth by bringing in newcomers, and while some of those players, such as Cobus Reinach, might have let the coach down on the big day, they would have learned from the experience.

And the stalwarts in the team should see the unexpected loss as a wake-up call.

If there is one thing holding the Sharks back it is their tendency to lose big games to teams they should beat easily. WP triumphed at Kings Park through a sheer refusal to lose and it is clear the players play for one another. But the Sharks, given the talent at their disposal, should have won, just as they should have beaten the Lions in a crucial Super Rugby match back in June.

That game stymied their quest for the conference trophy, the one that the Stormers eventually won, and as Coetzee said at the post-match press conference, the fact his men have now followed the conference trophy up with the Currie Cup title earns them the right to be recognised as South Africa’s champion team. No-one should argue with that.

Remember too that the Vodacom Cup is also locked away in the WP trophy cabinet, and the national under-19 trophy too. With respect to the Bulls under-21s, who played really well in their final, their trophy might also be in the Cape were it not for the number of under-21 players who were on senior duty.

But Super Rugby is what the two top South African teams – the Bulls have a lot of work to do before they can be considered to be part of the challenge – need to be focusing on now, and if Saturday’s defeat wipes away any possible complacency that might have developed, the result was a good one for the Sharks and South Africa.

They get Frans Steyn, Ryan Kankowski and Bismarck du Plessis back next year, and that middle name was sorely missed in the area that was their Achilles heel, the lineouts.

Perhaps after backing the wrong horse this last weekend I should refrain from making bold predictions, but airports have never been good for my wisdom, so let me say that I stick to the line I took after the Super Rugby final in Hamilton three months ago – the Sharks will win Super Rugby next year.

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