Yesterday was the first time I’ve really felt quite sad about not being able to go out. Friends and I were supposed to be going to the stadium to watch the Sharks play the Lions, but obviously that couldn’t happen. I watched an old game on TV instead, but still, it’s not quite the same.
The weekend before the lockdown was announced, Super Rugby was suspended indefinitely. Now, everyone who knows me (or has even briefly met me) knows I am absolutely passionate about rugby, and no matter how far away I move from Durban, the Sharks will always be my team. Living in Joburg, I don’t get to see them as often as I would like to, so as soon as they announced the suspension of Super Rugby, even though it was before the South African lockdown, or even the restriction on social gatherings, was announced, I was pretty bleak, as I knew it meant my much-anticipated trip to the stadium was off the cards.
But more than that, I just felt so sad for the players. The Sharks have been having an incredible season, topping the overall log (admittedly having played an extra game), and winning six out of seven clashes, including three out of four on their Australasian tour. They’re like a completely different team to the one that has been in the doldrums for the last couple of years, promising lots on paper, but somehow failing to deliver. This year, they have taken to the field with an exciting style of play that has long been missing, but even more importantly, they are a team that is clearly enjoying playing together, and has the support of a coach who knows how to create cohesion.
Why am I so excited about this cohesion and team spirit? Flashback to last year, when most people doubted the Springboks’ chances of winning the World Cup – I was full of optimism, and believed that if any Springbok team could do it, it was that one, because of the obvious unity within the team, and the culture that Rassie Erasmus had created. I feel the same way about this Sharks team and Sean Everitt, and genuinely believe that this could have been the year for them to win their first Super Rugby title. Of course, it’s very early in the season, with only seven out of 18 rounds of ordinary play having taken place before the suspension. But I am confident that they could have gone all the way, with an exciting mix of seasoned players and new recruits, who look like they are having fun on and off the field, while delivering results.
They haven’t officially cancelled the season yet, but realistically, it’s highly unlikely that Super Rugby will continue this year, unless the powers that be find a way to seriously curtail the season, and even then, we are fast running out of time. Even the July internationals are now in doubt. So I am disappointed to be missing out on a tournament I still love, even though many claim it’s dying, but even more than that, I am sad that the Sharks players and coaches, who have worked so hard to get to where they are, and to turn their team around, are not going to get their chance to go all the way. Of course, there’s always next year, and with a mostly young team, I have no doubt they’ll be back, despite the crushing disappointment of lost momentum – something I suppose we can all relate to, in our own ways, right now. Until then, I’ll just keep watching as many old games as I can record on Super Sport, and keep this highlights package on repeat…