The Cell C Sharks will take immense pride, but also confidence into the 2019 rugby season – and beyond – following the team’s outstanding victory over the DHL Western Province in the Currie Cup Final.
A young side, missing numerous players to the Springbok cause or Japanese club commitments, did the jersey justice over the season, culminating in the defeat of Western Province on Saturday to be crowed 2018 champions.
Head coach Robert du Preez was proud of the two Cell C Sharks teams’ (in the Currie Cup and SA Rugby Under 19 Championship) successes, saying that this bodes well for the future as they look to build on these achievements.
“This victory is massive for the Union,” he admits. “The fact that the Under 19s won their final as well and played fantastic rugby throughout the season means we have to keep building on this and I believe we have the squad to be a force to be reckoned with in Super Rugby next year.”
The brotherhood this young, exciting team showed was evident in their success and will be a feature they will look to continue developing.
The ‘Brother-for-brother’ theme was conceptualised by the players themselves and something the team fully embraced. It is also a vital component of a team’s psyche that can only bode well for the future.
“The message is simple: the team comes first, before the individual. A lot of credit must go to our co-captain Chiliboy Ralepelle who played off the bench in the semi-final and final, he was magnificent, both as a player and a leader within the team.”
Although picking out one player who has really grown is unfair on the rest of the team, du Preez pays handsome compliment to a number of players.
“I think there are quite a few. A guy like Aphelele Fassi was tremendous and he never grew fazed in the big occasions. He has a bright future ahead of him. I thought Jeremy Ward and Marius Louw were outstanding as a centre combination all season and they grew every game. I thought Rob du Preez (junior) controlled the games well for us and Louis Schreuder was instrumental in a lot of decision-making. In the pack a guy like Tyler Paul has been truly immense. Absolutely massive. Then the work horses in Hyron Andrews and Gideon Koegelenberg were outstanding as a lock pairing.
“Probably the unsung hero would be Juan Schoeman. He had an outstanding season, he was great. Juan Schoeman – ‘Husky’ – our loosehead prop came up with the brother-for-brother theme while we were in a leadership meeting and everyone bought into it,” du Preez explains.
Captain Chiliboy Ralepelle is equally positive about the young group.
“We’re very blessed with talent, there is immense talent in this squad,” he says. “The belief that we can build on from winning the final is huge, this victory is going to mean a lot going forward.
“We have strong back-up from the Under 19s also shaping up this season, so we have plenty of talent all-round. That will make competition for places even tougher than it already is which is exactly what we need going forward, making sure no-one is ever operating in a comfort zone.
One of the areas that the Cell C Sharks will look to keep developing is in consistent performances. The results in Super Rugby were a little erratic at times, but aside from the hiccup against Western Province in the pool stages, the Currie Cup coasted along with great momentum.
“One of the biggest things we found this year was that we were sometimes our own worst enemies by not keeping consistent in our performances,” he explains. “One of the main aims in this Currie Cup was to stay consistent in everything that we do, to trust the systems and everyone bought into that.
“That’s why we got such reward in the final, we didn’t change anything but everyone was detailed and knew exactly what to do. That for me was what epitomises the victory.”
The team’s music videos on the eve of the final created some hype, not all of it complimentary (that might just have been another team’s fans), but it speaks to the essence of the game and those who play it.
“It was something we started to create fun for the team. At the end of the day, rugby is a game that we play and something we still need to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the game on and off the field, how will you enjoy the victories? We knew we needed to bring a theme, the Brother-for-brother theme was about being selfless and knowing that whatever you do is to the best of your ability, but it’s for the team. If you do something from the heart, you enjoy it so much more.
“That unity was immense in the final.”