In the first instalment of a new article series from the SA Rugby magazine team, editor CRAIG LEWIS reflects on a match he will never forget.
Back in 2014, I was fortunate to travel with the Sharks on their trip to Australasia on my first assignment as a journalist ‘on tour’.
As a Durban-based Sharks beat reporter, I was the only ‘local’ member of the media to travel with the team, but I rather nervously started the trip in somewhat awkward fashion.
Despite a strong start to the 2014 season under Jake White, the team suffered a disappointing 34-18 loss to the Highlanders the day before travelling overseas.
On the Saturday morning, as we sat on a domestic flight to Johannesburg before flying out to Australia, the local paper did the rounds on the plane. It featured my match report with a copy-editor having chosen a headline that read something along the lines of ‘Highlanders embarrass woeful Sharks’.
From two rows in front of me, hulking prop Jannie du Plessis locked eyes on the headline and story with a scowl forming on his face, while I tried to make myself as small as possible.
It may not have been the perfect start to the trip, but things looked up as the Sharks went on to beat the Rebels in their opening tour game while we were based in the picturesque Sydney seaside suburb of Bondi Beach.
However, a loss against the Brumbies followed, before preparations began for a clash with the mighty Crusaders as pressure slowly began to mount on the touring team.
The Sharks had never won in Christchurch before then, and looked certain to suffer another defeat when Jean Deysel was red-carded early on for stamping on an opponent.
Yet, somehow, the Sharks remained in the contest, with second-half tries to Cobus Reinach and Kyle Cooper securing the most remarkable miracle victory. As the lone ‘Saffa’ up in the press box, it was a surreal moment to experience live as the Sharks broke into delirious celebration.
After the match, a young Frans Steyn wandered out of the change room looking like he needed a breather, and sat down for a chat as he reflected on how much this moment had meant to him.
Not long after, then captain Bismarck du Plessis made his way to the team bus and threw a light-hearted chirp my way: ‘See, and you never thought we could win.’
Hours after that, as I was granted rare access to the team room while the Sharks continued their celebrations. Jannie called me over and reminded me it was those sorts of matches that players live for. All was forgiven.
Fair to say, it’s a match I will never forget.
Photo: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images