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Natal Sharks Rugby Culture – JD’s view

Written by Jan Dyman (JD)

Posted in :Original Content, Reader Submissions, Sharks on 10 Jun 2013 at 13:13
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

Maybe the most accurate description of the Sharks was done here on Sharksworld. In the words of @FireTheLooser: “The French are able to produce some of the most exciting rugby ever displayed on a rugby field, able to match and beat any team physically whilst displaying some seriously mind blowing interplay and handling skills. At the same time they are able to produce the most mind numbing rugby ever. That’s right guys, the Sharks are the scaled down version of the French international rugby team.

Yet is it so simple to capture the essence of the Sharks?

From the onset of rugby on the East Coast of South Africa, the Natal rugby team did not form part of the “big boys”. They had a slow start and, with only two Currie Cup Final appearances, the first century of Natal rugby dragged past. The 80’s started on a high note with good showings against the British Lions team and the mighty Northern Transvaal side and it seemed as if things might be turning for Natal rugby. This was however short lived; Natal had to play in the lower division for most of the decade and Natal rugby seemed to be dead and buried. In 1984 Natal shocked friend and foe by beating Free State in the Currie Cup semi-final, only for the dream to be snubbed by Province in the final.

At the start of the 90’s things changed and would never be the same again for Natal rugby – the arrival of the Zimbabwean connection changed the face of Natal rugby forever. Ian MacIntosh became coach and with the help of some “big” imports and another Zimbabwean born boy (Tony Watson) the “Banana Boys” were Currie Cup Champions.

For me there are three major outside influences in Natal and Sharks rugby:

1. Imported Skills and Knowledge

Since the early 80’s Natal rugby was able to lure some experienced and talented international players like Roger Gardner (Wales), Mark Loane (Aus), Craig Ross (NZ), Murray Mexted (NZ) and Chris Butcher (Eng) to play and stay in Durban.

The class of 1990 carried on with this “tradition” and had Tom Lawton (Aus) and John Plumtree (NZ) to help.

Since then international stars like John Allan (Scot), Kevin Putt (NZ), Thierry Lacroix (France), Olivier Roumat (France), Federico Mendez (Arg), Tony Brown (NZ), Juan Martin Hernandez (Arg) and Frederic Michalak (France) had something to add to a winning Natal Sharks rugby team.

2. The Zimbabwean Factor

For me the Zimbabwean factor came to prominence with the 1990 final where both the coach (Ian MacIntosh) and the winning try scorer (Tony Watson) had a connection to Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwean/Sharks mantle was picked up and carried on by the likes of Adrian Garvey, Gary Teichman, Bob Skinstad and Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira!!!!!!!

Now you may think that there are not many names on this list but if you look closely at these names you will find that some of them played a major part in changing the face of Natal and Sharks rugby forever.

3. The Free State “Blikore” Connection

The connection to the “Blikore” (Free State/Cheetahs) must be the most fun.

With a whole host of Free State players moving to Natal during the 90’s Natal Sharks rugby was often called the Free State “B-team”. The only problem with that was that the so called “B-team” outperformed the “A-team” for most of the decade.

The likes of Vleis Visagie, Pieter Müller, André Joubert, Hentie Martens, Olie le Roux, Henry Honiball, A.J. Venter, Stephen Brink, Charl van Rensburg, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Andries Strauss and Paul Jordaan all crossed Van Reenens Pass to call the green green grass of Natal home.

Added to all of the above is a plethora of extremely talented local players that included Hugh Reece-Edwards, Jeremy Thompson, Dick Muir, Joel Stransky, Craig Jameson, Steve Atherton, Mark Andrews, Wayne Fyvie, Rob Kempson, Trevor Halstead, Craig Davison, Warren Britz, BJ Botha, Butch James, Deon Carstens, Etienne Fynn, Shaun Sowerby, Warren Brosnihan, Rudi Keil, John Smit, JP Pietersen, Ryan Kankowski, Johann Muller, Steven Sykes, Keegan Daniel, Bradley Barritt, Waylon Murray, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Alister Hargreaves, Craig Burden, Marcell Coetzee and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

So where does this leave Natal/”Banana Boys”/Sharks rugby? For me the culture/tradition of Natal rugby is being able to adapt with a willingness to learn from others (local as well as international). This has resulted in the Natal Sharks playing a brand of exciting running rugby with good ball retention and interplay between forwards and backs. The Natal Sharks team consists of solid, hard as nails tight forwards that can dominate their opponents; skilled, clever, hardworking loose forwards that can link with both the forward and the back and a backline with silky smooth skills and speed that can cut most defenses to shreds.

On the negative side it seems that the Sharks can only really perform when they’re the “under dogs”, not taking well to the “favorites” tag as they’re often able to slip-up in “big” games or against the “wooden spoonists”, resulting in them being called chokers.

At the heart of the successful team of the 90’s was lots and lots of hard work and once again that is what is required of this modern Sharks team to get back to what made the Sharks such a good and competitive team.

I can live with been called “the scaled down version of the French international rugby team” I just hope with all my heart that the international and scaled down versions put in the hard work and repay their supporters with some silverware.


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