That pretty much says it all.
A home semifinal for a freshened Stormers unit against a wearied side on the road seemed like a fait accompli for many of the locals, and then the whistle blew as the paper dreaming twittered away.
Falling off a ledge is really not the significant issue. It is the scale of the height involved. For many fans wearing their DHL, this was a free-fall, with a very personal cost. Heart in head, helpless in hands. Hope of filling the void now a mantlepiece in another’s world, with all that is left to remind oneself that the only way forward is to build a future, the very same place as a year before.
While the content of the following definition of this contest will vary according to the fan’s supporting disposition, “surreal” could describe the outworking of the 80, with the shock still awaiting this reference, the time to settle.
What went wrong?
To say this has been a long time coming for the Stormers is not entirely a hyperbole too far.
We have been schooled on defence winning Championships, and this still remains generally so.
However, when the defence is not married with an attack that can justify this emphasis, this truism can quickly turn into false. The Stormers have been flat-lining it for too long in 2012. A weak ending to the regular season would provide the points, but would not startle the sensibilities before time would go very wrong, very quickly, and it would be too late.
Their young Forward pack started this season like their house was part of the Kitshoff clan; on fire, in 2012.
Etzebeth would do his reputation no harm at the end, the one shot on the chin of Bismarck, sinking in, for all to see. His moment would play it out, but the pack was taken to school by the experience of the opposition, Sharks 8. This is not entirely without an explanation, with injury part of puzzle in the Loose. However, until this Stormers side has a Frontrow built for the long haul, their season will likely stall. Experience could be the catchword, which is in need of that vital commodity called time, but it was the Sharks who took control of the situation; legally or otherwise.
The scoreboard counts.
Way out back, you look at the names connected with numbers, in the knowledge that these are individuals well-versed with ball in hand. For all the stability that has been added to Grant’s game, the flaky brilliance is a morsel neither seen nor heard in 2012. He has an International speed-set out wide. Note this point. If any side in SupeRugby should be running rings, it is this Stormers backline, but they looked lost in their own world, instead of connected at the hip.
This whole affecting the individual was placed in stark contrast with the individual confidence of JPP who cut a swathe sorely missing in the Stormers unit. Did the Springbok snubbing impact their psyche more than expected? This is not suggesting that they needed to throw the ball, willy-nilly, but remember the Highlanders match away from home, earlier in this season. You could really fear the defence because the counter-attack had teeth and was more than a myth locked in the past. It made their package more than potent.
It is sad to see that it was only when the game was gone that they decided to shake the bind and express themselves, and nearly get back into the game. This Stormers backline needs to breathe again. Find their life. Use their gifts. Show their genius. Forget the past. Play the moment!
Their present structure is too restrictive. The players resemble robots concerned about making a mistake. Rugby needs structure, but the structure lays the foundation for the intuitive brilliance to unload. There is murder on the dancefloor.
While there was plenty of jocular talk about winning every match without a bonus point in season, the prescient point was too-often missed. Scoring tries remains only the end portion of a very long journey. It is the commentary in-between that speaks of a side showing the form of a unit working well in their field. As this season grew in length, their form began to tread water, leaving this scribe with the sense that they did not have that other gear required in a knockout.
While it is not a direct comparison, as the All Blacks score with profanity, they have noted the need to raise their game come the Knockout of a Rugby World Cup. It is an entirely different context, save the obvious.
The sad thing about this is that they may have tricked themselves into believing they have been in playoff mode all season, as many of her fans have claimed, only to be rudely exposed as failing to grasp the conception.
On the other hand, while this will understandably read painful for some, for others on this Monday morning in the Republic, the dream still has a pulse. Welcome, Sharks fans… And some forgiving, Cheetahs fans, enjoying this ride.
Winning rugby. Playoff rugby. Away from home rugby. Still alive for the Final. When form morphs into momentum, it meets belief, and anything becomes possible. If I tell you that you have no chance versus the Chiefs, you can laugh with delight that you have the opportunity to this time shock the whole of the SupeRugby world.
We have spoken of the travel factor on Rugby Journey being an advantage. This could be the week where it is too far, but that gag is now a week old, and the only people who are laughing are wearing black. Perverse.
When this scribe picked the Sharks for the South African Conference at the start of this season, what we now witness in reality was conceptually there, in theory. It has taken some time for this world away to come together in reality, and it would only be just. However, they have underscored what beautiful rugby can be played by a team in Black, somewhat orchestrated by a Frog. At least there is only a scant reference to Whales. #Sharks
Freddie Michalak is a frenchmen, and we know how a moment can move them… or not. We have recently referenced the need for Grant to show greater flare, while the substance Grant has shown over the past seasons has been recently in evidence, with the mercurial Sharks pivot. Le Fred showed when to run, when to hide, when to kick, and when to pot that drop. A player that is showing the signs of many years in the game, he has given the Sharks a missing link, even as the future is looking more like a Lambie.
There are many other names in this backline that deserve the praise of an accolade, but no one more than average Joe, Louis Ludik, in this playoff. I don’t believe it is belittling to affirm that he is exceeding expectation, with this performance in the Semifinal, making thoughts of Patrick, coming off the Bench.
Nevertheless, as always, this type of talk starts up front.
The names in the front seat of 8-seater family wagon deserve the credit associated with winning rugby, but it has been the players on the rise that have lifted their performances, making synergy out of all this energy. Names like an out-of-position Alberts, a re-born Kankowski who understands his time is short, and the flaming mullet, Bresler. Anton is the last name you may think about in this 8, but he played the Semi like a man releasing his demons onto the opposition. A man more possessed, I have not seen. He was a rucking hitman, throwing his weight like a hand grenade.
Time will fail these words, but the work of Coetzee and Daniels, resemble the wings on a plane that have given this body the ability to stay airborne. Daniels will battle to break into the Bokke 15 as he still has more Jack to his trade, but he has an intestinal fortitude that now has the room to flourish. He has always had the physical gifts. If he started his career post 2016, there may have been a push for a fulltime Sevens role. There was a time when you wondered how he would stay in one piece, considering his weight and frame. His physicality is now more than accepted, with his combination with Coetzee proving more than ideal for this Sharks side.
Marcel was manic versus the Reds, and although not quite at this level, plays the killer-crossover, 6-7, role, much like a New Zealander. High praise.
The Sharks style. Confrontational. Smash-mouth. Bombastic. Then Go! Wide. Speed. Winning.
They will head to Sydney, then onto Hamilton, with the world of rugby thinking this is one step too far.
Just goes to show what happens when you stop doubting yourself, and begin the opposition’s ability to handle your best.
The Sharks will be committed to continuing to stay out of their own way on Saturday night, fully deserving this spot in the Final, all the way from sixth.
Fascinating times ahead.
Finally, it was nice to have no joy with the TMO and for a quasi-New Zealand referee to be the lack of a talking point, even deserving his own Final shot. We need more of this!
What Say You?
Until Next Time