How the mighty fall, and the more hum­ble rise up

The Witness - - SPORT - •­ carl.pe­ters@wit­ness.co.za Carl Pe­ters

AT this very mo­ment in the suit­ably-un­pre­dictable world of sport, where end­less team in­vest­ment is su­per-crit­i­cal and ab­so­lutely no­body can rest on their lau­rels, we find Mar­itzburg United and Sharks diehards at con­trast­ing ends of the hap­pi­ness barom­e­ter.

It is against the odds that sup­port­ers of mod­est Mar­itzburg have seen their he­roes im­pres­sively se­cure their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive top-eight fin­ish in the PSL, and third in four sea­sons, while fans of the Sharks must be puz­zled by their once-mighty out­fit’s down­ward slide in the Su­per Rugby stand­ings.

But this is how the sports in­dus­try works — to­day’s star teams are to­mor­row’s po­ten­tial strag­glers un­less they have the abil­ity to keep re­fresh­ing them­selves and limit ri­vals’ op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­ploit any weak­nesses from the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

Mar­itzburg have, in­deed, closed the gap on sev­eral clubs in the Premier­ship in re­cent sea­sons and the third place, and points tally, they cur­rently en­joy means they won’t drop out of the top half of the stand­ings when the league closes on May 12, be­cause there are just three matches re­main­ing.

This is a solid achieve­ment for a club who still have rel­e­ga­tion scars from the past and who still don’t en­joy a com­mer­cial, head­line spon­sor­ship, but are for­tu­nate to get fi­nan­cial back­ing from Msun­duzi Municipality to not only help them stay afloat but make a profit that should be used in the fol­low­ing sea­son on that afore­men­tioned player-ven­ture pri­or­ity.

The municipality’s fund­ing must not be dis­counted be­cause with­out it, “Team of Choice” boss Fa­rook Kado­dia and com­pany would likely have en­coun­tered fur­ther rel­e­ga­tion fears in re­cent sea­sons and prob­a­bly again con­sid­ered sell­ing the club in light of that on­go­ing lack of cor­po­rate back­ing.

But there must now be height­ened hopes of a ti­tle spon­sor­ship fi­nally be­ing landed by Kado­dia’s party be­cause of the morale-boost­ing, up­ward slant in their per­for­mance curve since they en­tered the Premier­ship 13 years ago.

Mean­while, there is an im­por­tant foot­ball say­ing that could be used to help ex­plain the Sharks’ un­savoury re­sults in Su­per Rugby, af­ter they fin­ished as Cur­rie Cup run­ners-up last sea­son.

Ac­cord­ing to the wise men of the so­called beau­ti­ful game, strik­ers win matches but de­fend­ers win ti­tles.

To ex­tend this to the oval-ball game, it means the Sharks re­ally have to start de­fend­ing as a unit to im­prove their sit­u­a­tion, con­sid­er­ing they have some fine play­ers go­ing for­ward.

From last sea­son’s Cur­rie Cup to now, coach Robert du Preez’s men have reg­u­larly shown an ap­petite to reach the try­line — while not pro­tect­ing their own tightly enough.

This can be seen in the points-for and points-against col­umns of both the Cur­rie Cup and Su­per Rugby log ta­bles.

Main­tain­ing that fine bal­ance be­tween at­tack and de­fence is, ul­ti­mately, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the coach­ing staff, es­pe­cially when en­coun­ter­ing clever op­po­si­tion coaches who will bid to nul­lify your strengths or when key play­ers are not avail­able.

This strongly ap­peared the case last Satur­day when the ex­pe­ri­enced and wily John Mitchell brought his Bulls pack from Pre­to­ria to King’s Park, and the Sharks’ cause was fur­ther ham­pered by prob­lems with key prop Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira among oth­ers.

If the no-non­sense, word-scarce Du Preez has al­ways had a sharp rugby brain but has some­how been un­able to get ev­ery sin­gle inch of grey mat­ter work­ing op­ti­mally in re­cent months, the fans would want him to press that metaphor­i­cal re­boot but­ton right away.

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