They say that good things come to those who wait, and for the Sharks and their supporters, that old adage rang true this year as the coastal franchise at long last managed to end a trophy-winning drought that had spanned more than a decade.
In fact, it was a year in which good things came in abundance. Besides the acquisition of the elusive Currie Cup title after 12 years of waiting, the Sharks powered their way into the Super 14 play-offs for the second consecutive year, once again defeating all South African counterparts in the pool stages along the way.
Craig Lewis writes in the Daily News that they also won 23 out of 30 games in the Super 14 and Currie Cup together, remaining undefeated at home throughout.
However, perhaps more significant than all of this is the fact that 2008 was the year in which this side truly came of age.
With John Plumtree taking over the coaching reins from Dick Muir after the Super 14, some may have expected some semblance of teething problems, but the transition was seamless, almost unnoticeable, and that in fact is a credit to both men.
With Plumtree having worked very closely with Muir as assistant coach since the beginning of last year and having taken charge during Muir’s absence throughout the 2007 Currie Cup, it was the type of clear-cut succession plan that worked wonders.
In the end, Plumtree perhaps explained it best in the aftermath of the Currie Cup final.
“The team and the union have been questioned over the past 12 years, but there has been a system at work and the team has slowly built up. Dick started the fire, I came in with some experience and then this (the Currie Cup victory) can happen.”
In many ways, it was the Sharks’ performance in this year’s Super 14 that laid the foundation for the marathon Currie Cup campaign.
It was during this time that they really began to adopt, and adapt to a winning brand of rugby, while the true potential of the likes of Rory Kockott, Keegan Daniel, Adi Jacobs and Jean Deysel was unlocked.
In the end, a Sharks team that was full of guts and courage, but which lacked the aura of a side destined for glory, quite literally ran out of steam in their Sydney semi-final against the Waratahs.
However, it was an aura that took form midway through the Currie Cup and grew exponentially over the final few weeks of competition, ultimately culminating in glory in front of 50 000 jubilant home fans on October 25.
And afterwards, the sentiment, “it just felt like this year was our year”, was echoed in abundance by players and coaches when reviewing the successful campaign, which saw the Sharks return to the traditional values of old as they placed an added emphasis on what it meant to pull on the black and white jersey.
The players also bought into the ethos of putting the team before the individual, or as Rory Kockott put it: “We always said it was about the we and not the me.”
The Currie Cup campaign has also served to unearth some serious talent that augurs well for the future of the coastal franchise.
Flanker Jean Deysel has undoubtedly been the find of the season while among others, youngsters such as Craig Burden, Pat Cilliers, Skholiwe Ndlovu, Riaan Swanepoel, Chris Jordaan and Alistair Hargreaves also played an integral role in this year’s campaign and will be players to watch in the future.
There were also several unsung heroes such as Jacques Botes, Steven Sykes, Deon Carstens, Waylon Murray and even among the coaching staff, Grant Bashford has perhaps not received all the praise he deserves.
The affable assistant coach has worked wonders with the backline and proved to be the perfect foil to Plumtree, forging a fine partnership with the New Zealander.
Mention must also be made of Johann Muller who has led the side with ease and aplomb throughout the year.
“Overall it was a great year for us,” Muller admitted. “To first get into the Super 14 semi-final and then win the Currie Cup was a really special effort from the whole squad and management. If I think back now, it was by a country mile, the most enjoyable and successful season I’ve ever had here.”
The Sharks were also recognised for their incredible year at SA Rugby’s annual awards ceremony held in Johannesburg at the end of November, with the coastal franchise being named as the Super 14 Team of the Year.
Plumtree was also chosen as Coach of the Year while No 8 Ryan Kankowski and back-row colleague, Jean Deysel, were recognised with the Super 14 Player of the Year and the Currie Cup Player of the Year awards respectively.
Meanwhile for the Springboks, it’s been a year characterised by both mediocre and mesmerising performances.
Coming off the back of World Cup victory last year, and with a new coach at the helm in Peter de Villiers, the performance of the team was always going to be closely scrutinised.
The first real test for the Boks came in the Tri-Nations with the men in green tipped by many to secure the crown after Australia and New Zealand endured disappointing early exits in the World Cup before entering a re-building phase this year.
However, with De Villiers seemingly intent on enforcing a new brand of expansive running rugby, the Boks floundered, only managing to win two out of six Tri-Nations encounters as they finished bottom of the pile.
Their two wins, though, did come in some style, with an incredible solo try by scrumhalf Ricky Januarie carrying them to their first ever victory in Dunedin before a total team effort saw them inflict a record 53-8 drubbing of Australia in their final Tri-Nations encounter.
On the end-of-year tour to the UK, they once again left their best till last when they hammered England 42-6 in their final Test of the year after stuttering past a gallant Wales and Scotland earlier in the tour.
That final performance at Twickenham was a somewhat fitting end to the year for the Boks as it proved just what they were capable of.
It illustrated what could be achieved when a more sensible and measured approach was adopted as well as just what incredibly talented players South Africa is blessed with.
So when considering the predominantly untapped potential of the Springboks this year, 2008 must go down as a year of missed opportunities. However, nine wins from 13 starts is certainly not a bad return and hopefully the form they displayed in Dunedin and at Twickenham can be repeated with more regularity in 2009.
Finally, credit must also be given to the Springbok Sevens team who have ensured that there is a sweet taste left in the mouth at the end of this year.
The “BlitzBoks” ended 2008 by taking victory in the opening two rounds of the IRB Sevens World Series, which has been characterised by competitive, compelling rugby and sell-out crowds.
By triumphing in both Dubai and George – which was the first success at home after 10 years of trying – the Sevens side have ensured they lead the World Series standings with a maximum of 40 points, putting themselves in a prime position to take top honours when the series concludes in May.
Their year-ending performances drew high praise from De Villiers as well as Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby UnionTweet