Since the sport went professional and the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union adopted The Sharks as a brand name for their team, The Sharks have, over the past decade, evolved from a provincial rugby brand to a commercially recognised sporting brand of international acclaim, promoting an intrinsic lifestyle value as well as fashion, entertainment and sporting aspiration. 2009 was the second consecutive year it achieved Superbrand status.
The Sharks have been one of the most successful sides competing in Super Rugby since inception in 1996.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, various championships, series and tournaments involved the Australian and New Zealand rugby unions and when South Africa was readmitted into international sport, they were invited to participate in an expanded competition featuring teams from the three rugby-loving countries as well as one of the Pacific Nations.
The tournament, played over two pools featuring five sides in each pool, had two teams (New South Wales and Queensland) to represent Australia in the new Super 10 competition in 1993, while four would come from New Zealand (the top four teams from the previous year’s National Provincial Championship) with the top three performing Currie Cup teams representing South Africa.
The winner of the previous year’s Pacific Tri-Nations between Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa would participate (Western Samoa in the first two years and Tonga in the final year – 1995).
Transvaal (now the Lions) lay claim to winning the very first trophy when they defeated Auckland (the Blues) in 1993. After an undefeated run against New South Wales (now the Waratahs), Samoa, Auckland and Waikato (the Chiefs) in 1994, Natal topped the log where they came up against Queensland who defeated them 21–10 at the final at Kings Park.
The Super 12 was inaugurated as a fully professional competition after the 1995 Rugby World Cup when the sport came out of the amateur era for good and embraced professionalism.
Natal would exact revenge in 1996 over Queensland, defeating them in Brisbane (43-25) in the semi-final where they again reached the final, only to lose to an All Black-laden Auckland side at Eden Park.
It was the first of four finals Natal – and later The Sharks – would play up until 2012.
Interestingly, in the first year of the Super 12 in 1996, the Crusaders finished last. They would go on to feature in 10 finals, winning seven. The Sharks and Blues are the third most frequent finalists, although The Sharks have yet to win the final.
In 2001, Rudolf Straeuli took over from Hugh Reece-Edwards as coach, taking The Sharks to the final which was played in Canberra. The Brumbies won the first of their two titles in that match and it would be a further six years before The Shark were back in a Super Rugby Final.
In 2006, a further two teams were added to the competition – the Cats were split and their teams reverted to their former, independent selves: the Cheetahs and Lions, while Australia were awarded their fourth franchise, the Western Force from Perth.
The Crusaders lost just one game en-route to yet another title while The Sharks finished in fifth place, tie with the fourth-placed Bulls who went through thanks to a 43-10 defeat of the Stormers in the final game of the pool stages. Their points’ differential was 65 to The Sharks 64 if ever there was a closer run finish. But they had lost one less game than The Sharks to go through ahead of them.
Under Dick Muir and John Plumtree, The Sharks played some exciting and enterprising rugby in 2007 to finish top of the log with 10 wins from their 13 pool games, including a last gasp one point win over the Crusaders when Odwa Ndungane scored a try in the corner, which Ruan Pienaar converted from the touchline to win an epic game 27-26.
The Sharks would be on the other side of a one-pointer in similar fashion when Bryan Habana scored a controversial last minute try which was converted in the final at KINGS PARK to give the Bulls their first title.
The Sharks reached the semi-finals in 2008 but were no match for the Waratahs in Sydney and just missed out the following year.
In 2011, the Melbourne Rebels were added to the competition to give each participating nation five representative sides in the 15-team Super Rugby Competition.
The Sharks reached the finals series after finishing as a Wildcard entry (finishing in sixth place), but a match against the Crusaders in New Zealand once again proved too tough.
In 2012, against all odds, and after a slow start to the tournament, The Sharks finished in sixth spot again.
This would mean, again, a trip overseas in the Final Series, where they came up against the 2011 champions, the Reds in Brisbane. There would be no disappointment this time as they defeated the Reds 30-17, nor the following week where tournament hopefuls, the Stormers, lay in wait back in Cape Town.
Despite their hectic tour schedule, The Sharks showed great composure to see off the Cape side 26-19.
However, what lay in wait for them was a hurdle too far to cross. Another flight back over to New Zealand saw to their demise as the Chiefs delivered a 37-6 win against a travel-fatigued Sharks side.
The 2014 season heralded much excitement. A new coach in 2007 Rugby World Cup winning coach Jake White at the helm and a new captain in stalwart Bismarck du Plessis.
The team were off to a great start, with a rare bonus point win achieved in the Durban February heat, against the Bulls. Victories continued and they topped the log. They toured successfully with three wins from four – the only South African side to win on tour, and their points achieved on tour exceeded the cumulative total of the four other local franchises.
A historic, first time ever win over the Crusaders in Christchurch was the highlight and demonstrated their title aspirations in spectacular fashion. But on their return, two disappointing losses saw them slip out of the top two, meaning a home quarter-final (which saw them defeat the Highlanders in emphatic fashion), but an away semi-final. The Crusaders would spoil the party in Christchurch, as the 2014 season ended a week prematurely for the Cell C Sharks.
It has been an exciting ride along the way and Sharks fans will have plenty of great memories to look back on, with the anticipation of future success not far off on the horizon.
Roll of Honour
- 1996 Blues
- 1997 Blues
- 1998 Crusaders
- 1999 Crusaders
- 2000 Crusaders
- 2001 Brumbies
- 2002 Crusaders
- 2003 Blues
- 2004 Brumbies
- 2005 Crusaders
- 2006 Crusaders
- 2007 Bulls
- 2008 Crusaders
- 2009 Bulls
- 2010 Bulls
- 2011 Reds
- 2012 Chiefs
- 2013 Chiefs
- 2014 Waratahs
- 2015 Highlanders
The Kwa-Zulu Natal Rugby Union (KZNRU) may have been formed as far back as 1890, but it took 66 years for the union to enjoy its first Currie Cup final. In the interim, the province did produce its fair share of quality players, including Springboks Bill Payne, Wally Clarkson and Philip Nel, who led South Africa on the country’s unbeaten tour of New Zealand in 1937. But the 1940s, 50s and 60s weren’t successful years for the province, although legendary coach Izak van Heerden did manage to fashion two unbeaten seasons in ’61 and ’63, when the Currie Cup competition wasn’t held.
The 1956 final saw Natal up against Northern Transvaal and even though it was contested at Kingsmead, 9-8 was the score in favour of the men from Pretoria. That defeat, however, was to go straight into the memory banks and avenged many years later.
With so many Springbok test matches in the early 1960s, the Currie Cup was contested only four times in that decade. Natal failed to make an impression, despite being able to call on the likes of Springboks Ormond Taylor and Keith Oxlee. But the province did succeed in building its own unique style of exciting rugby, thanks to the foresight and genius of Van Heerden. Van Heerden, who coached Natal from the late 1950s into the ‘60s, was ahead of his time, fostering a brand of rugby that placed so much emphasis on ball retention and the interplay of forwards and backs to produce try-scoring opportunities.
Nonetheless, Natal saw very little success in the 1970s, until the arrival of Wynand Claassen from Pretoria in late 1979. What followed was a rare third-place finish in the Currie Cup in 1980, with Claassen receiving inspirational support from Welshman Roger Gardner and former Wallaby Mark Loane. The standout result was a 22-19 defeat of Northern Transvaal – Natal’s first win over the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in 41 years.
The Bulls went on to win the Currie Cup again that year, but Natal were the only side – apart from the touring British Lions – to get the better of them. During the 80s, Natal could call on players of the calibre of Gawie Visagie, Henry Coxwell, Rob Hankinson and Mort Mortassagne, but relegation to the B-Section followed in ’81. The side made up for this in 1984 by qualifying for the Currie Cup final, despite plying their trade in the B-Section. That was after a stunning semifinal victory over Free State, thanks to two tries from Des McLean and one each from Derek la Marque and Claassen.
The “Banana Boys” gave a good account of themselves in the 1984 final, but Western Province were too good, winning 19-9 at Newlands in Cape Town. For much of the 1980s Natal were written off as a B-Section team punching above their weight. It wasn’t until the arrival of legendary coach Ian McIntosh from Zimbabwe and the return to the A-Section in ’87 that they started to lay the foundations for success in the 1990s.
After arriving in 1986, McIntosh quickly made his mark in Durban and spent the late ‘80s building a squad and recruiting players he felt would serve the greater good of Natal Rugby. That culminated in a dream 1990 Currie Cup season, which saw Natal sweep aside just about all before them, with only a heavy round-robin defeat to Northern Transvaal playing on their minds as they travelled north to face the same opponents in the final.
Despite Natal’s great season, the men from Pretoria were heavily favoured to win, particularly in front of a partisan home crowd that had become accustomed to Currie Cup success. And with match-winning flyhalf Naas Botha at the helm, it was widely accepted that Northerns just had to show up to win. But, in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition, McIntosh’s side turned the tables and edged out their more-fancied opponents 18-12, after a match-winning try from flying winger Tony Watson.
The victorious side was captained by scrumhalf Craig Jamieson, who led the team on a ticker-tape parade through central Durban later in the week. The victory was especially poignant for being both Natal’s first, and for occurring in the union’s centenary year. Players from that history-making team included fullback Hugh Reece-Edwards and centres Dick Muir and Jeremy Thomson.
But the hard work was done up front by Gerhard Harding, Tom Lawton and Guy Kebble in the front row, backed up by the lock pairing of Andre Botha and Rudie Visagie, flank Wahl Bartmann and eighth man Andrew Aitken. McIntosh produced a masterstroke by naming regular lock Steve Atherton on the flank just minutes before kick-off. It resulted in what was arguably Natal’s heaviest-ever scrum and laid the platform for the Durban side to put the required pressure on Northerns scrumhalf Robert du Preez and Botha.
That 1990 victory was the catalyst for further Currie Cup success, as McIntosh set about ensuring continuity that culminated in Natal being labelled the “team of the ‘90s” a decade later. During this time, the province also recruited wisely, with the likes of Du Preez, fullback Andre Joubert, flyhalf Henry Honiball, centre Pieter Muller and prop Ollie le Roux all making the trip to Durban to seek greater fortune. Another shrewd acquisition was tireless flanker Bartmann from Transvaal, and 1992 saw him lead Natal to a second Currie Cup triumph – this time away from home.
Francois Pienaar’s powerful Transvaal unit were defeated 14-13 in the final at Ellis Park. A 21-15 Currie Cup final defeat to the same opponents followed in 1993 – a loss that was made all the more difficult because it took place in front of an expectant home crowd at Kings Park.
But Natal were back in the winner’s circle two years later. By now, players such as locks Mark Andrews and Atherton, hooker John Allan, eighth man Gary Teichmann, prop Adrian Garvey, wing Cabous van der Westhuizen and scrumhalf Kevin Putt were all household names and either current or future Springbok stars.
Making the most of a memorable World Cup year which saw the Springboks claim an historic first world title, McIntosh also recruited Frenchmen Olivier Roumat and Thierry Lacroix to bolster what was already a highly talented squad. It proved a masterstroke, with the big lock and flyhalf playing important roles in the 1995 final victory over Western Province in Durban. The final score was 25-17, with Natal able to celebrate a third Currie Cup success in six years.
With the likes of legendary fullback Joubert now entering their prime, along with a new crop of Sharks heroes in the form of flank Wayne Fyvie and prop Robbie Kempson, further success followed in 1996 with Natal securing their first back-to-back Currie Cup titles. Such was their dominance in that year that McIntosh’s side were able to travel away to Ellis Park and convincingly beat Transvaal 33-15, with Joubert grabbing the man-of-the-match award with a stunning two-try performance.
It was surprising, then, that the Durban team had to wait until 1999 to contest another final, with the likes of Western Province, Free State and Northern Transvaal once again coming into their own towards the end of the ‘90s. But it was to be Transvaal that would cause Natal Currie Cup heartache, as they pitched up in Durban and handed the four-time champions a 32-9 hiding in the 1999 final, with Transvaal fullback Thinus Delport scoring twice in a match-winning performance.
That signalled the end of an era, with McIntosh, inspirational captain Teichmann, Honiball and Joubert all announcing their retirements. Nonetheless, with Rudolf Straeuli now at the helm and future Springbok captain John Smit at the forefront of a Sharks revival, they were able to overcome those huge losses and qualify for the 2000 final. But Western Province were too strong at The Absa Stadium Durban, as The Sharks went down by 25 points to 15. It was a case of deja vu just 12 months later, but this time at Newlands in Cape Town. The score was 29-24 on that occasion, as Province enjoyed a period of dominance over their coastal rivals from Durban.
The Sharks bounced back to feature in the 2003 final, but a heavy 40-19 Currie Cup final defeat to the Bulls in Pretoria followed and that was to signal the start of a barren period for the province. It wasn’t until 2008, with New Zealander John Plumtree in charge, that The Sharks were able to break the curse and once again claim Currie Cup glory.
The Bulls were their opponents in the final, and this time The Absa Stadium Durban faithful were treated to a gutsy Sharks performance that culminated in an edgy 14-9 victory. It was the fifth Currie Cup title, and like the 2005 final, a French-connection in the guise of Frederic Michalak would again be involved for The Sharks and, with quality young players such as Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott, Beast Mtawarira, JP Pietersen, Bismarck du Plessis, Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski in their ranks, the portents for success are clearly present. Many of the above-mentioned players, along with some of the stalwarts like John Smit, Stefan Terblanche and Jacques Botes, together with a few new recruits like Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik, and new talent coming through the Sharks Academy made good in 2010 as The Sharks regained the Absa Currie Cup trophy after another successful domestic season.
Having finished the pool stages of the tournament at the top of the log, they dispatched of the Blue Bulls in the semi-final and then comprehensively beat Western Province 30-10 in the final – both matches taking place in front of home crowds at The Shark Tank.
Young Patrick Lambie was the star of the show, earning the coveted Absa Man of the Match with his 25 individual points’ haul and he, along with Keegan Daniel, Lwazi Mvovo, Willem Alberts and Charl McLeod all went on to gain Springbok honours at the end of the year.
The Sharks reached their third final in four years when they finished second on the log in 2011, with the Lions finishing top. The Lions had not won a trophy since beating the Sharks in the 1999 Currie Cup Final. Despite the odds, a fired-up Lions side emulated the feat of their predecessors of 12 years previously (interestingly enough, The Sharks too had suffered a 12 year drought, winning in 1996 and then again in 2008) and ran out winners at a packed Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg.
The Sharks had an uphill battle, missing a number of their players who were away on national duty, in the Tri Nations and then the Rugby World Cup which was held in New Zealand. To their credit, they finished second overall behind eventual winners the Lions who they met in the final at Coca-Cola Park. A fired-up Lions side broke a 12 year drought to defeat The Sharks and emerge 2011 Currie Cup champions.
It was a similar scenario in 2012 when The Sharks managed, again, to reach the Currie Cup Final, hosting it again as they had successfully in 2008 and 2010. All the signs suggested that they would emulate those feats, but sadly it was Western Province who broke their own 11 year trophy drought in a tight final at Kings Park.
However, The Sharks were not to be denied in 2013 when matters were reversed. The final pool match pitted The Sharks and Western Province against one another at Growthpoint KINGS PARK, the teams one and two on the log. The winner of that match would finish top and thus earn the right to host the final, should they get through.
Both teams successfully negotiated their way through the semi-finals, Province defeating the Golden Lions 33-16 and The Sharks victorious over Free State – 33-22.
And so, it was final time between The Sharks and Province, down at Newlands in Cape Town. The home side were overwhelming favourites (although the odds changed significantly after the announcement of a Bok-laden Sharks side). It was typical derby stuff; a massive clash between the two best teams in the tournament. But it appeared that The Sharks were hungrier.
They hit the rucks with greater passion, they smashed Province in the tackles and took their chances to emerge worthy 33-19 victors, holding out against a late, but ultimately ineffective charge from the home side to be crowned 2013 champions – their third title and fifth final in the tournament since 2008.
On June 24, 1890, a new Rugby Union was formed at a meeting of sporting citizens at the old Town Office in Pietermaritzburg. Rugby was still finding its feet as a mainstream sport, but it was developing in the schools especially, and TK Murray, who would go on to become the first President of the Natal Rugby Union, was instrumental in formalising rugby in the province.
He offered a trophy under which rugby could be conducted and Natal was committed to the game of Rugby Union with TK Murray elected president.
Interestingly, the first home of Natal rugby was not Durban because there was no involvement as yet from the port city, although as early as 1870, a form of rugby was being played at Pietermaritzburg High School (later to become Maritzburg College) – a full five years before the establishment of South Africa’s oldest rugby club, Hamiltons in Cape Town.
Pietermaritzburg would form the early hub of rugby in the province.
On 10 August 1889, the first ‘inter-town’ match took place between Durban and Pietermaritzburg sides with Wasps, Crusaders and Durban Rovers starting to build the game in Durban.
The first match played by a Natal side to officially bear the provincial name was played at the Albert Park Oval in Durban, against Kimberley, the Natal players wearing ‘crimson jerseys and black knickers’.
The Natal Rugby Union was launched in 1904 – a full provincial union – with Albert Park still the venue for rugby matches. Later, matches moved to the ground that would become Kingsmead Cricket Ground.
30 000 spectators packed out Kingsmead for the All Black Test in 1949 and it became clear that the ground was no longer big enough to accommodate International rugby.
KINGS PARK (not quite as we now know it) would officially became the home of Natal Rugby on 28 June, 1958.
Why “Kings” Park?
There is a railway platform adjacent to where the stadium stands, a special siding reserved for royalty, where the Monarch or members of his family would be met. The land was made available by the Durban City Council (who would then, in turn, use the land in the Old Fort area to develop municipal offices) for a new stadium.
Unfortunately, the stadium size did not match the attraction Natal Rugby had in those days, with its capacity of only 12 000. 16 000 people crammed the stadium for a match against Transvaal in 1958 and it was clear that expansion was necessary.
An upper level was soon added to more than double capacity to 25 000.
But it still wasn’t enough, especially for international matches with vast scaffolding added for the 1976 All Black Test; 44 000 people packed the stadium that day.
In the early 80s, it had become abundantly clear that temporary stands, erected and then removed for each Test, was a threat to host status and professional consultants were engaged to draw plans for a new main grandstand, including the construction of suites, which would increase capacity to 50 000 all-seated.
A unanimous decision was taken in February, 1984 to build a completely new cantilever grandstand on the Western side which would incorporate extensive offices, suites, media facilities, changerooms and other facilities – an R8 million development project.
The final development came in 1995 with a new Eastern Upper Stand that was added to bring capacity to its current 52 000 to accommodate the Rugby World Cup held in South Africa.
The Sharks signed a Stadium Sponsorship agreement with Growthpoint Properties in 2013 and the name of the stadium is now Growthpoint KINGS PARK.