In another letter to the editor as we continue to encourage our readers to send CRAIG LEWIS submissions, Francois Marais reflects on the Vodacom Bulls’ heroics in 2007.
My favourite rugby moment? Hmmmm …
Since I have the opportunity to go back in time, and since fine margins is my topic of choice, pointing out a single game or moment in 20 long years that inspired me would be unfair towards the game of rugby.
I would rather take the opportunity to share my version of what I claim to be the most incredible rugby season ever. The year 2007 was definitely the most memorable rugby season, from a Bulls supporter’s perspective and obviously a Springbok one as well.
There is a saying, ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Whether you won or lost, there is a lot of truth in that.
The 2007 rugby season started off with a classic Sharks vs Bulls derby at Kings Park in the first round of the Vodacom Super 14 season. I mention this specific game as a starting point for my venture, because this was probably where the countdown began for the astonishing events that followed as the season progressed.
The Sharks won that opener quite comfortably 17-3, and although the Bulls qualified for the playoffs in the previous two editions of the tournament in 2005 and 2006, the probability of exceeding expectations took a massive dent in that opening game, or so I presumed.
The Sharks had a consistent run throughout the season while the Bulls had a bit of bumpy start, but good away victories and decent Australasian tours gave both teams a good chance of qualifying for the playoffs. Only twice before did two South African teams qualify for the playoffs in the same season.
Australia and especially New Zealand dominated the playoff spots and up to this point in time, no South African team ever tasted victory in a final. The Sharks did, however, become the first South African side in the tournament’s history to finish at the top of the overall tournament standings after the pool stages in 2007 and by doing so they secured a home semi-final.
The final: Sharks vs Bulls
It went by in a flash and became apparent that it will go down to the wire, a rather suitable ending for this specific season, even if it was just to destroy the little bit of nerves any Bulls supporter had left.
I never lost hope during the final, and every game since that 2007 final made it impossible for me to not see out a rugby game.
Up stepped Mr Bryan Habana from nowhere, with Sharks defenders all around him, he got the ball, and decided this is how it ends.
The game of rugby is a strange thing, because I can just imagine what the Sharks players and their home crowd must have felt like. It must have been devastating, to say the least.
The majority of the players in that final played a crucial role for the Springbok squad that went on to become world champions later that year. To this day, I strongly believe the challenges that the Bulls had to overcome during that Super Rugby season and the devastation the Sharks had to endure after a really promising season, played an incredible role for the Springboks to be crowned world champions in 2007.
Jake White selected a squad of 31 players for the 2007 World Cup, and 21 of those were players from the Sharks and Bulls who played in that Super Rugby final. Out of the 22 players he picked for the final against England, 15 were involved in that Super Rugby final.
To say we would not have become world champs if it was not for the events that took place in the Super Rugby season would be unfair towards the Springboks, but I believe it most definitely played a much-bigger psychological role than we think.
In any case, the 2007 season most definitely changed me as a person, spiritually, psychologically and most importantly taught me that no matter what the challenges are, no matter what people tell you, no matter how impossible some things are life, they are meant to be overcome, they are meant to be challenged, they are meant to make you ready for the next challenge.
Rugby taught me the value of the words: The best is yet to come. This coronavirus is yet another challenge we have to face, and there will be stories to tell once we beat this pandemic.
– Francois Marais
*If you’d like to join Ngcebo in sending us a rugby letter, we invite you to share any of your thoughts or memories in an email to editor Craig Lewis at this address: [email protected]