Sharks Blow Hurricanes Away

Ian TaitCorrespondent IApril 6, 2009

It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Brumbies lock Shawn Mackay, who passed away this morning after being knocked over by a car last Sunday morning.

He was 26 years old. I am not going to dwell too much on the Super 14 this weekend, as I did not get to see too much of it except for the Sharks game, as we traveled to Kokstad to play club rugby.

The South African sides did not fair to well, with only the Sharks keeping the nations flag flying high. The Bulls played well, and in the bits that I saw on Friday, they were more than a match for the Crusaders, going down 16-13.

Although there were passages of play that they did well, the fact that the Crusaders scrum was so powerful did not help the Bulls cause. The Western Force, for want of a better word, thumped the Reds, 39-7.

The Force dominated, and the pace of their three quarters proved just too much for the Reds. On Saturday, the Lions seemed to be heading for the upset on the season, but then it happened. South African teams forget that a game of rugby is 80 minutes long.

The Chiefs fought back to win comfortably in the end, 36-29. Hopefully the Lions will learn from this and win next week, then again we can wish.

The Waratha’s vs. the Stormers was not a great game. In fact, I heard that many a Stormers fan fell asleep watching the game. 12-6… not an exciting score line.

The Cheetahs went down again, losing to a Brumbies team that was playing for their gravely ill brother in arms stood little chance, losing 27-40. There will certainly be a lot of passion and emotion at the Brumbies next home game.

Onto the Sharks. It was always going to be the game of the weekend, and it certainly did not leave anybody in doubt that it was. The Sharks beat the Canes, 33-17, and although many in the “know” reckon the Sharks were lucky, I disagree.

They played structured rugby, stuck to the basics, tackled like Trojans. Frans Steyn played very well at 10, and was powerful with ball in hand, but the fact that the Sharks forwards dominated, set the platform for the backs to run wild.

John Plumtree will now need to keep his charges feet firmly on the ground when they travel to Bloemfontein on Saturday. The table is still very open, and even Canes on 20 points with a game in hand is still very well set for a home Semi-Final.

Onto club rugby and a bug bear of mine! Where is the support in the National and Provincial structures for club rugby? Now, I am not saying that the Sharks Rugby Union do not look after the premier league clubs, the millions that get pumped into these teams is great. It also helps these clubs with their junior structures as the money attracts the youngsters to their clubs.

The other great thing for these clubs is the fact that the majority of the Academy players only play for the top club sides. However, if a team like Rover drills the Crusaders 91-0 in a Frank Norris u/20 A game, questions need to be asked about how players get distributed to the clubs.

Out of 350 registered Academy students, why do less than 100 play club rugby? Why are the surplus players not sent to the junior clubs, to play rugby and assist with development of the game? As I said, we were down in Kokstad this Saturday, and every year they seem to be struggling more and more with the support of their club—not in the lacking of players, but in the support of the club, spectators, sponsors, assistance with coaches.

SARU spend millions of rand every year in development of rugby, grass root levels bring young players of colour through trying to teach them what this great game is all about. They get to go to rugby schools. Some of them excel, Some get chosen for provincial and even national school representative sides. Some on merit, and Some because the government says you need to select them.

The problem here is that once they leave school, they go back home to where they grew up. In many cases, this is back to a farm, no running water, no electricity, and the prospect of finding work being so slim, playing rugby is not top of their agenda. The administrators and government need to look to the clubs and assist them by getting the corporates involved in sponsorship—money that could be used toward developing the rugby clubs.

Kit is expensive. Equipment like tackle bags, cones, rugby balls, even a field to train on is a luxury at many clubs. Money is often thrown at “development,” and given to club administrators with no accountability for what is done with it.

Why not, instead of giving this money to the clubs, employ representatives to work for the clubs and making them responsible in assisting the club committees to run these clubs, and develop the rugby in each community.

Set measurable targets. If you have a major sponsor, like say, Huntsman in Amanzimtoti, and make them the custodians of Toti Rugby Club or SAPREF the custodians of Wentworth Rugby Club, you would have a win-win situation for both parties.

The Clubs would have a fixed budgeted amount of money that they would be assured of from the company, and spending would only happen on the agreement of both parties. Say new rugby balls, kit, and after game kit for the players and feeding program. Companies could start trainee apprentice programs for school leavers that are talented in rugby.

So not only do they get to learn a trade and become economically independent, they also get the opportunity to carry on playing a game that they love. Hence, these players are not lost to rugby once out of school.

The big draw card for the companies, besides free advertising for themselves in the area and media, is that they also get tax relief from government. Yes, there will always be detractors saying how a rugby club committee and a corporate sponsor will be able to work together when you use the company’s money.

Well, this is never going to be easy, but if the ground rules are laid out properly and is mutually agreed upon by both parties, and also the union and government, it should make life a lot easier.

We all know just how difficult the economic times are right now, and how hard it is to find sponsors, but something like this would help club rugby so much. Imagine if junior clubs could field six teams every weekend.

Imagine if towns like Kokstad, Richards Bay, Pietermaritzburg, Port Shepstone, Ladysmith and Newcastle had rugby teams that could compete with the Rovers, Collegians and Harlequins of this world.

We have very good school structure in KZN; we have world class tertiary institutions in this province, rugby clubs with long and proud traditions and a Sharks rugby team that is flying high. If your provincial goal is to be the best in the country, even the world, you need to develop local talent and you need to sustain the talent.

Only if you have collective buy in the whole community would you see success of this type of plan. It is nice to dream, but it is achievable, and only if everybody works together towards the same goal will this work. Make rugby the winner! Until next week! Stay fit have a safe Easter. Onetime.