Keegan Daniel is a popular and highly-rated Cell C Sharks player who is back in Durban after a stint of club rugby in Japan, and now leads the team in the Currie Cup competition starting on Friday.
On a personal level, having signed a three year contract with the Cell C Sharks and being appointed captain provides the twin sentiments of pride and responsibility.
“It’s great to be back, Durban is my home,” he explains. “I’ve been here for 12 years barring a few months in Japan and I just want to add value here. We have a great bunch of guys here, there is a lot of youth but also tons of experience. Some guys might be 24 or 25 but they’ve played in two or three Super Rugby or Currie Cup campaigns. So for me to get the opportunity to lead the guys is a great responsibility and something I do take quite seriously.”
In 2013, Keegan captained the side in the Currie Cup and at the conclusion of the competition, held aloft the trophy, something many believe to be a feat he can repeat.
The Cell C Sharks squad remains relatively intact from that we saw in Super Rugby, which bodes well for continuity, even if there are still some player movements in an out of the side.
“The reality is that every season the squad changes and new players come in and some go,” he points out. “With the Currie Cup it’s a bit unique because we also lose a few Springboks and you just have to adapt to that. And it means new opportunities for the young guys.
‘When I was last involved in the Cell C Sharks Currie Cup campaign in 2013, the Union was going through changes but we accomplished what few people thought we could.
So Currie Cup is always an opportunity to work with young guys, the competition is a nurturing ground with players going to Europe and Japan and obviously the Springboks and that’s when we get to see future up and coming stars getting their opportunities.”
As well as some new faces in the squad, there is also a new head coach in Robert du Preez, but this doesn’t suggest an overhaul of the composition of the coaching staff, not at all.
“The coaching staff is actually very much the same as in the Super Rugby tournament, it’s just that Gary Gold has taken over more of a Director of Rugby role – facilitating rugby throughout the union – with Robert stepping up as head coach. And he’ll have the opportunity to implement ideas from his style of coaching. Although there is a short time together, this is an experienced group of players who have played Super Rugby together, so there aren’t too many changes.”
With pretty much the same players and coaching staff, Keegan does agree that continuity is in the Cell C Sharks’ favour.
“Pretty much so, the Super Rugby experience in this group is phenomenal. In the past we’d lose 10-12 players and kind of have to start with a new team. But we have more of a settled team this time, we’ve worked with Robert over the last six months and the guys are familiar with his coaching style, as well as that of Sean Everitt and Ryan Strudwick. Ricardo Loubscher is a fresh face in the areas of skills and attack.”
The expectations, given the continuity and experience in the side, are high.
“We’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform this campaign,” the captain admits. “When you play for a Union with so much history and expectation, there is a certain amount of pressure. We have to step up. We came through a pretty good Super Rugby campaign but we do need to tweak our game and we get the opportunity on Friday night to do that.”