How the mighty fall, and the more humble rise up
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.