KwaZulu-Natal has had its Currie Cup heroes over the decades – from Keith Oxlee to Gary Teichmann, from Tommy Bedford to Andre Joubert.
Mike Greenaway writes for www.iol.co.za.
And right up there as a player who embodied the spirit of the black-and-white jersey is Tony Watson, a darling of King’s Park from his debut in 1985 as a scrawny 19-year-old from Zimbabwe until his retirement following an unfortunate mid-air collision with Uli Schmidt in a Currie Cup match against Transvaal at King’s Park.
Incredibly, the first 128 games Watson played for then Natal were all in a row. He ended up playing 144.
In 1990, of course, in the Currie Cup final at Loftus Versfeld, he blazed down the touchline and into Natal rugby folklore when he evaded Theo van Rensburg for the title-clinching try.
Since his retirement, Watson’s passion for the Sharks has been undiminished. When the Sharks hit hard times a few years ago, he was at the forefront of concerned criticism from former players of the union.
In short, Watson has an educated eye when it comes to the Sharks, and can spot a good thing when he sees one.
His comments on the fortunes of the team now coached by one of his former team-mates in the 1990 and 1992 title-winning teams, John Plumtree, are typically emotive and should be heart-warming for Sharks fans.
“I see some similarities between the great Sharks teams and this present group,” Watson said.
“We are seeing the rebirth of the Sharks as a family, as a team that plays for each other, enjoys each other’s company and wants to do well for the jersey.
“I saw the guys recently at an airport and observed them from a distance. Their interaction told me that this was not just a rugby team, but a group of friends,” he said.
“You can see it, too, in the way they play. There is a collective desire to win that you only get when there is a strong bond between players,” Watson said.
Plumtree and his management team will appreciate Watson’s observations, but coaches tend to get uneasy when their teams are hyped up.
But the ever-competitive Watson says the Sharks should embrace the expectation, and show the killer instinct that has been lacking from recent teams.
“The last thing the Sharks should do now is hesitate. This year the Currie Cup is theirs for the taking if they decide as a team to go out there and take the damn thing.
“There should be no messing about. No questioning of themselves now. What for? They are the best team, are in the best form, have incredible depth, complete faith in their game plan and each other. It is their time. It is our time as Sharks fans,” Watson said.
“I am absolutely convinced that they will beat the Lions and go on to win the final. If somebody can give me a reasonable argument as to why this won’t happen, I would be very interested to hear it.”
That is typical Watson positive thinking, but he says it goes beyond this. “It is about belief. I truly believe they will beat the Lions and win the final. I am sure the players do to.
“It is now about them going out and doing it. In years gone by, Sharks teams have tended to promise a great deal, only to stumble when the going got tough. That won’t happen with these guys. They are the real deal,” Watson said.
“They have the right values, they have their priorities right, and when you have all of that, you have a winning team.”Tweet