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Where is the joy?

Written by Ryan Quirk (The Quirk)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 7 Apr 2015 at 19:43
Tagged with : ,

I’ve been watching the Cell C Sharks play for the last few years with a sense of dread. It’s a foreboding that I haven’t been able to place. I’ve noted the grim determination on the players’ faces. I’ve noted the dwindling crowds at Kings Park. I’ve noticed how tense the coaching box is becoming. I’ve noticed the lines on players’ faces becoming more furrowed and I’ve noticed frowns take the place of smiles when young stars make their debuts.

I’ve long sensed an undercurrent of unease built up by years of pressure to perform, pressure to be harder and stronger than the opposition, pressure of a self-inflicted will to win that no player can keep up forever.

It’s evidenced by simple mistakes that skilled players make; JP Pietersen, renowned worldwide for his try scoring prowess dropping a ball with an open try-line his mercy, Frans Steyn lifting Aaron Cruden’s legs in a tackle and Bismarck du Plessis and Jean Deysel’s complete meltdown moments in the heat of battle. These are all experienced players, who, in previous seasons have excelled at try scoring, keeping discipline and winning games for the Sharks on a regular basis. So why now are they suddenly villains? Why are they cracking at key moments?

It is because, after all this time, the pressure of all that grimness has finally cracked the diamond that it had spent so much time creating. It started with the changes in the coaches box, started by the unceremonious sacking of John Plumtree, the last of the true Sharks legends to coach the team, to the hiring and departure of Jake the Snake White, to the hiring of club coaches and a brilliant technical analyst, but perhaps not the best man to bring a team together in Gary Gold. It’s been building, simmering and stirring waiting for the perfect moment to shatter and reveal the sharp uncomfortable truth.

That perfect moment came against the Crusaders after being started two weeks earlier against the Chiefs. With four key men out in Bismarck, Frans, JP Pietersen and Pieter Steph du Toit, Jean Deysel, captain on the day, snapped and threw his knee at another man’s head. Suddenly the only leader left on the field was Pat Lambie, who then took a blow to the neck that is going to keep out for six weeks.

So what is the answer? How can the Sharks stop the cracked diamond formed by years of undue pressure and unnecessary grimness from crumbling to dust?

Somebody needs to bring the joy back to Sharks rugby.

Where did that joy go? It’s been absent for some time. What happened to the great atmosphere on the outer fields at Kings Park on game day? It just isn’t the same anymore? It didn’t matter if the Sharks were first or last, there was always a vibe where fans from both sides of the encounter would mingle, braai and be merry. What happened to the joy on the field? What happened to the smiles on the players faces? The one team who epitomise this is the Sharks next opponents. The Lions are that team and the Sharks would do well to look in their direction and see what they are doing right.

That’s where it starts, in my book. The coaches and team leaders need to re-discover why they do what they do and take that to the team. It’s not all about winning at all costs. That is a Nazi way of thinking. It’s about playing for each other, for the fans, for the love of the game. I believe if that happens, the results will take care of themselves, the fans will come back to Kings Park and perhaps most importantly, the players will again love the game they play.


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