The signs are promising for KwaZulu-Natal’s sporting teams

2014-02-22 00:00

FOR the first time in a long time, KwaZulu-Natal can consider itself as possibly the most happening sporting province in the country.

Across all of our big three — rugby, cricket and soccer — we are now stocked with the right blend of interesting characters and promising talent to suggest that these are exciting times.

The John Smit/Jake White partnership at the Shark Tank is about as tasty as it gets. Just one week into Super Rugby, the Sharks are already considered favourites to top the South African conference. As one of world rugby’s most respected coaches, White commands attention wherever he goes, and in turning the Brumbies into a competitive force once more, he did enough to get his name thrown around as a possible Wallabies coach.

But when the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) went for old favourite Ewen McKenzie instead, White was Durban-bound to be reunited with his 2007 World Cup winning captain. Smit’s appointment as CEO was initially surprising, and when the franchise’s old faces were replaced by the new, there was an element of uncertainty in the air. But results — including last year’s Currie Cup triumph — have been encouraging, and the vision for the Sharks to be the dominant force in southern hemisphere rugby is in full motion, with no fewer than 11 Springboks in today’s starting line-up for the Hurricanes.

On the soccer front, things are undeniably a little bit less glamorous. Golden Arrows are bottom of the PSL log and facing relegation, while Maritzburg United aren’t faring much better. AmaZulu are respectable, and appear the province’s best hope of a top-eight finish.

It is not so much the talent that makes this an interesting time for KZN football, but the characters. In Craig Rosslee, AmaZulu have a coach who oozes confidence — some would call it arrogance — and there is never a dull moment when he is around. But the real treasure for KZN at the moment comes in the form of new Maritzburg United coach Steve Komphela. A post-isolation Bafana captain, Komphela’s name is always mentioned when it is time to look for a new national coach. Like White, Komphela is one of the most accomplished coaches in the country. His work ethic, professionalism and sheer knowledge of the game separate him from his peers. There is never a simple answer with Steve. Every question — regardless of how trivial it may be — is answered with all of the care and thought in the world.

Komphela is South African football’s Aristotle, and he is on our doorstep. The players are responding to his man-management skills — and there is a sense of harmony and brotherhood in the camp now. It is likely to be enough to turn United’s fortune around and keep them in the PSL for a while longer.

The story at Kingsmead is also a happy one, for a change. Silverware for the first time in eight seasons in the form of this year’s Ram Slam T20 title has alleviated a mountain of pressure on the Dolphins. Under coach Lance Klusener, the side are looking far more ominous in the four-day competition too. Klusener may cut an emotionless figure at times, but he has restored an element of pride to the Dolphins that has been lacking in recent seasons. He has played and dominated at the highest level, and it is appropriate that he is bringing the franchise back towards what it stood for when he, Shaun Pollock, Dale Benkenstein, Jonty Rhodes, Doug Watson and the likes used to mingle with the Indian Mynahs at Kingsmead.

There are some who believe that we are getting a little too excited too quickly about the Dolphins — that one trophy doesn’t erase the lean period. Well, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s a start. And if we can’t celebrate our side winning a trophy, then what on earth are we in this sports fan game for anyway?

Make no mistake, now is as good a time as any to be a Natalian. We’re bringing back the glory days.

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