WP bringing their own monkeys to Durban
With the Absa Currie Cup final being held in the land of those little grey-haired vervets that seem to inhabit every forested area, it seems only appropriate that much of the talk ahead of Saturday's clash is centred around monkeys on the back.
While the Sharks finally rid themselves of theirs a few years ago, the one on the backs of the hooped jerseys from the Cape is fast approaching its teenage years and is perhaps the main reason to 'back' the home side in domestic rugby's showpiece.
WP coach Allister Coetzee was asked at a press conference this week whether he felt the extra pressure of playing a home final might count against the Sharks. It seemed a reasonable question as in two successive Newlands Super Rugby semifinals there has been a perception that the weight of expectation of the home support proved too much for the Stormers.
But Coetzee was quick to wave that question away. There aren’t any monkeys on the Sharks’ backs. There may have been in 2008, when they went into a final against the Blue Bulls having lost a sequence of deciding games (two of those to WP in 2000 and 2001), but they were shaken off by a victory that ended a drought that had lasted since 1996.
Two years later, in 2010, they followed it up with another Currie Cup triumph, this time with Province their victims in the final. So far from being weighed down by any expectation or any figurative monkey acting as a debilitating influence, the Sharks have the confidence that comes with having been in this place before and won.
“I don’t think the pressure of playing at home will be a burden on the Sharks as they have faced it before and won,” said Coetzee.
“In fact they have quite an advantage through having the knowledge of what it takes to win a Currie Cup final, having done it before, and that will give them a lot of confidence. They don’t have any monkey on their back.”
Coetzee wasn’t saying his team does have a monkey, but he didn’t need to.
The need for a trophy, any kind of trophy, is becoming an obsession in Cape rugby, to the point where it may be becoming counter-productive by leading to unwise decisions, such as the recent one to rush all of the Springboks straight back into the WP starting team.
For Sharks coach John Plumtree there is the knowledge that he already has two Currie Cup titles to his name, there is no domestic drought that needs breaking, and while he would desperately like to win another, the next step for him now is really winning Super Rugby. For him, the Currie Cup should just be a stepping stone to what should now be his main quest, which is to top the South African conference in next year’s Super Rugby.
That would give the Sharks a fair chance of going all the way to the trophy they were so cruelly denied in the dying moments of the 2007 final as it would at least mean they play their play-off fixtures at home rather than do while embarking on a world tour.
But Plumtree still doesn’t appear to want any extra unnecessary pressure heaped on his team in the build-up, for he apparently tried a rather vain attempt to rid his team of the favourites tag during a press conference in Durban on Tuesday.
“That is just a way of trying to deflect the pressure off them,” said Plumtree of Coetzee’s contention that the Sharks were the best team in the competition and would thus start as favourites.
“They (WP) will be coming here to win and will be coming here with their own expectations. I don’t buy into the favourites debate at all.”
Plumtree would have to agree with me though that the only monkeys he will see in Durban today are those vervets that will be watching him from fences and trees lining the roads as he drives home from Kings Park through Glenashley and La Lucia. Whether it is a good or bad thing that his opponents on Saturday will arrive in Durban carrying another kind of monkey on their back is something we will know in a few days.