Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Pressure mounts on Sharks
Johannesburg - It is a fact that while home teams tend to win major finals, hosting the deciding game in a competition has not always been to the advantage of the Sharks.
Of the five Currie Cup finals they have hosted, they have only won two of them - a success rate of 40%. Throw in the 2007 Super 14 final, which they lost to the Bulls on the last move of the match, and the scenario is even worse. By contrast, some of their more famous victories in finals, such as the one in Pretoria in their Centenary Year, came away from home.
The Sharks failures in Durban finals could just be coincidence, but they could also be rooted in the extra pressure that accompanies a home final.
For instance, while the call from the Sharks on Monday for everyone in KwaZulu/Natal to wear black and white on Friday was a good marketing move, it could have the effect of increasing the pressure on the team as it makes them so much more aware of the massive weight of public expectation.
A year when the pressure might well have been a contributing factor in their failure to win a final was 1993, the year that Harry Viljoen coached Natal.
That was Natal’s first home final, and it is hard to remember another final anywhere that has been accompanied by more fanfare both in the build-up week and immediately before kick-off. Afterwards the ‘sideshows’ of final week were blamed for the team’s failure.
That was the final where Transvaal came to Durban as underdogs and stole it out from under the Natalians’ noses, as was the case when Western Province, who were understrength because of some key injuries in the tight five, did the same at Absa Stadium in 2000.
If you have never been to a morgue and want to get to experience what it is like, go to Durban after the Sharks have lost a major match.
So with all this in mind, it is understandable that pressure, and managing it, seems to be the major concern coming out of the Sharks camp at the start of the build-up week to Saturday’s big final.
“Final week can get out of hand if you don’t manage it. It’s about keeping the team together and resting and minimising side-shows,” said Sharks coach John Plumtree.
“The guys are very excited. Maybe the nerves will come in later in the week. I think it is settling in that they are playing a Currie Cup final in front of their home fans, and it is almost upon them after a week’s break. The thing is, Western Province will be experiencing the same excitement.
“They are in the same place as we were in 2008. We had not won anything in 12 years, but does that create pressure?”
Sharks captain Stefan Terblanche said that the team were in a good mental place for a final and that the win over the Bulls in the semifinal had enabled them to regain confidence after losing two of their last three games in the league stage of the competition.
“We lost two of our last three games, to the Lions and Province, but then came back strongly to beat the Bulls in the semi-final, and that has to give us the belief that we can beat the best as long as we get our game right,” said Terblanche.
However Terblanche also noted how well WP played against his team in the last league match at Newlands, and clearly there is no chance of the Durbanites underestimating Province in the final.
“I am hoping it will be third time lucky – we lost to Province in 2000 and 2001, and that was after losing heavily to the Lions in Durban in the 1999 final.”