History has been made, with South Africa assured of victory in the Super 14 Rugby Tournament. Each year five New Zealand teams, four Australian teams and five South African teams meet in what has become known as the clash of the titans in Southern Hemisphere rugby.
This year after thirteen grueling rounds, the Coastal Sharks from Durban, ended up log leaders, at 45 points. They were followed by the Canterbury Crusaders and the Auckland Blues, both on 42 points and at second and third places, respectively. The Australian outfit, the Brumbies, were in fourth spot, with only one match still to be played, between the Blue Bulls from South Africa and the Queensland Reds, from Australia. On the 6th of May 2007, the Bulls needed to win the game, earn 5 points and beat the Reds, by a score of at least 72, in order to overtake the Brumbies and slip in at fourth spot. Any thing less would leave them in fifth place and out of the semi finals. They produced an almost impossible feat by winning the game 92 – 3 and not only made the top four, but overtook the Crusaders and the Blues on points, to slip into second place. All three ended on 42 points.
Thus the Blues, who had enjoyed top place, for most of the competition and the Crusaders, who were the defending champions, were relegated to third and fourth places, with the two South African teams, holding the top two spots and hosting the semi final games at home. The Sharks had reached the semi finals, five times, in years passed and reached the finals twice before, but had always had to play away games and lost both. The Bulls reached the semis last year, edging the Sharks out of semi final contention, by only a couple of points. This was the first time ever, that South Africa had had two teams in the semi finals and hosting both games. The Aussies were completely blown out, of the semi final stakes. South Africa, in mourning after the recent poor form, of the Proteas cricket team, at the recent world cup, were ecstatic at this historic accomplishment.
The country came alive with anticipation and the main subject of conversation, all week, was whether one of our teams would make the finals. Well, at least if one of the teams won their match, South Africa was assured of reaching the finals. If the Sharks won, then they were assured of a home final. If the Bulls won, then although they were in the finals, they would have to play in New Zealand.
By the time Saturday 12th May 2007 arrived, the tension was unbearable. The weather was beautiful and the whole country was abuzz, with excitement. The tickets for the two big matches, had all been sold by early in the week and adverts offering tickets on the black market, were rife. Everybody unable to attend the game, were assembled in homes and pubs around the country, waiting eagerly for the two big games. The Sharks were up first, meeting the Blues at 15.00pm, followed by the Bulls and Crusaders at 17.30pm SA time.
The Sharks lost a little concentration around midway through their game, but came back strongly in the last 20 minutes of the game. It was an exciting match, with both teams playing scintillating rugby. The Sharks scored 3 tries, to the two by the Blues. This was truly the clash of the titans and a very physical encounter. The Sharks fought hard and overcame all obstacles, to win 34 – 18 and secured a definite home final. The crowds at the stadium and across the country, erupted in pure joy, at this historic achievement. Now it was the turn of the Bulls. Could they possibly pull off a win and make history, by creating a home final, between the two South African teams?
This was a totally different game. It was scrappy, unentertaining and not very exciting. No tries were scored and the only points recorded were from penalty kicks. It became a case of forcing errors to claim the penalty, but the mighty Bulls prevailed and kicked themselves into the final against the Sharks. The score ended at 27 – 12. The crowds, already in full celebratory moods, at the earlier victory, erupted again and the drinks and cheers ran through the night. South Africa had achieved the almost impossible, by beating the top two New Zealand teams and placing themselves in the history books, by holding the first ever final game at home, between the top two South African teams.
The Sunday papers were extra thick, with rugby stories, statistics and pictures. Many people woke on Sunday with sore heads and disbelief, at how their fortunes had changed, overnight. Tickets are selling furiously for the big match, in Durban, on Saturday 19th May 2007, and are expected to be sold out by early in the week. Durban as a city, has found itself in the enviable position of a major boom, with hotels and accommodation expected to be completely sold out. This will bring thousands of people flocking to Durban for the week-end and will produce millions of Rands in turnover.
No matter, whether the Sharks, or the Bulls win on Saturday, the Super 14 Rugby Trophy will definitely come to South Africa for the year, for the first time. Well done to both the Sharks and the Bulls.