Saturday’s Currie Cup opening clash against the Griffons at Hollywoodbets Kings Park, looks set to open South Africa’s premier domestic rugby tournament on an important note for the Cell C Sharks.
The Cell C Sharks last won the tournament in 2018, defeating Western Province 17-12 in the final in Cape Town to win their eighth title and they will know how important it is to get off to a good start in this year’s competition when they host the Griffons in Durban.
The Northern Free State side that plays out of Welkom has had a good build-up to the season, not having any other rugby commitments and prioritising the Currie Cup. Cell C Sharks centre Murray Koster pointed out that his team will not be taking their opposition lightly, despite their limited appearances in recent Currie Cup history.
“We know the Griffons have had quite a lengthy preseason, they’ve been together for a few months and they will come out hungry, looking to upset us,” he admitted in the build-up to the game.
“They will want to prove something in this Currie Cup.”
Koster is looking forward to extended opportunities during this Currie Cup season and said that, “For me personally as a player, all you want is game time, and for me, playing is key. It’s exciting that there are 14 games in a row and an opportunity to showcase what you are made of. I’m looking forward to hopefully playing 14 games and I’m sure there are other guys who have been on the fringes of the URC, also looking forward to getting some game time.”
The Cell C Sharks come into this game not quite as settled as the Griffons, but certainly no shortage of motivation and Koster explained that, “It is a bit of a challenge for us with guys moving in and out of the various squads, and mix those with juniors and club players all coming into the Currie Cup ranks. We have a very diverse squad, but the challenge for us is to find cohesion as quickly as possible and to make sure we hit the ground running.
“The Currie Cup is the premier rugby competition in South Africa, one the Cell C Sharks haven’t won since 2018 and all we want is to do as well as we can.”
With three premier rugby tournaments all taking place around the same time – Vodacom United Rugby Championship, the Heineken Champions Cup and now the Currie Cup – player resources are vital for teams like the Cell C Sharks who have to manage their squad, players and tournament resources delicately, while still remaining competitive and true to their respective aims.
“It is a bit of a challenge, it all depends on how the games are aligned. If the Currie Cup team are playing on a Sunday, for example, that doesn’t really align with the URC team playing on a Saturday.
“But in a perfect week, if both teams are playing on a Saturday, we would balance training a bit more. Although there is a huge focus on the URC, there is still a strong focus on the Currie Cup.
“But for these first few weeks, Currie Cup and URC games aren’t aligned, so training would be separate.”
Working with coach Joey Mongalo has been a novel experience, but one he is enjoying completely.
“It’s been unbelievable, coach Joey has won the Currie Cup and as a coach and he comes with a prestigious reputation, he’s been around and knows what he’s talking about. But most importantly, he knows how to manage his players, he knows how to get the best out of them.
“If he backs you, you know it. That and honesty is all a player even wants and that’s something I can really say about coach Joey. He’s straightforward with you and when he backs you, he does it 100%.”
Being in a big squad at the Cell C Sharks has meant rubbing shoulders with Springbok stars and it’s something he admitted has really helped his development.
“It’s been very helpful for the youngsters coming through the URC, seeing how the Boks run things and how professional they are off the field as well. It’s early to meetings, it’s never shying away from hard work and for us as youngsters, it’s awesome to learn from players who have achieved so much.”
On a personal note, he has been able to learn from the best in his own position and that’s something money can’t buy.
“We have four international centres and you can look at it in one of two ways: either you can learn from them or you can take nothing from them and I have been fortunate to learn a lot. The awesome thing for me is that they are all different players so I take what I can from each and try to put it all together.”