Sharks

Smit putting final demons behind him

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Sharks captain John Smit is confident that the Durban franchise’s past Super Rugby Final failures will not have any bearing on his side’s performance against the Bulls in the first-ever all-South Africa Super 14 Final on Saturday.

Although history will be made when two South African sides go head-to-head for the first time in a Super Rugby Final, it won’t be the first time the Sharks have participated in the tournament’s grand finale.

In 1994, when the Sharks were known simply as Natal in the Super 10 competition, Wahl Bartmann’s Durbanites suffered a 10-21 loss to Queensland at King’s Park Stadium.

King’s Park, for those not in the know, was the name of the stadium currently known now as ABSA Stadium – the venue once again for this year’s final.

The team, who by then were well on their way towards becoming the Natal Sharks, then travelled to New Zealand in 1996 to meet the Auckland Blues in the first Super Rugby Final held in the professional era.

By then, the tournament had become the Super 12 and this time the losing skipper was former South Africa number eight Gary Teichmann. The final score that day read 45-21 in favour of the Aucklanders.

If the Durban outfit, playing under the current name of the Sharks, thought they could make it third time lucky in 2001, they were horribly mistaken.

Again they had to settle for the losers’ medal when four missed kicks at goal in the first half of the final against the Brumbies proved to boost the home side’s confidence.

Former Springbok lock Mark Andrews was the captain that day as the Brumbies scored 30 unanswered second-half points to win 36-6 in Canberra, becoming the first non-New Zealand team to be crowned Super Rugby champions in the process.

Six years later and the Sharks, under the leadership of Springbok skipper and hooker John Smit, will want to put these Super Rugby Final losses behind them and rewrite the history books.

Smit, flankers AJ Venter and Warren Britz, lock Albert van den Berg and fly-half Butch James are the only survivors that lost in Canberra all those years ago.

All of them, however, will be hoping to put the ghosts of losing that match behind them come kick-off on Saturday.

“I think the last very substantial final was in 2001 and we still do have scars left from that encounter,” conceded Smit.

“We didn’t have our best game on the park that day.

“One thing we have kept in mind throughout this campaign, and as a goal when we started the season, was to try finish at the top of the table to give ourselves a fair chance of going all the way.

“And trying to deal with all the pressure that comes along with class is having the asset of playing on your home ground.

“I think the hard work and the goal-setting at the beginning of the year to finish at the top has given us a different perspective compared to the 2001 final.”

So, with two South African sides gunning for the southern hemisphere provincial crown, does that add or take away the pressure?

“I think it’s very special,” said Smit.

“If you asked us to rewrite the script I think we would have put it the same way – Sharks versus the Bulls in the final.

“That Super 14 trophy stays here in South Africa for the next year.

“What it creates is that people will stand up and watch the next time the Sharks and Bulls play in the 2008 Super 14 as well.

“It’s going to be a massive game and will also be an awesome display of what South African rugby has got to offer as we stand in such a valuable year.”

By Dave Morris 365 Digital 

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