Emotional build-up charged the Sharks
Highly charged emotion marked the Sharks' thrilling 30-10 Currie Cup final rugby win over Western Province in Durban on Saturday.
The day before the final Sharks coach John Plumtree sat at the bedside of close friend and former player John Mudgway as he passed away from complications related to motor-neuron disease. He was 49.
To add to the emotional build-up, Sharks centre Andries Strauss played his last game before returning to Free State, where he began his professional career. Strauss challenged his team-mates before kick-off and delivered arguably his finest performance in a black and white jersey.
"If it was your last game how would you play?" Strauss asked his team-mates in the huddle before the kick-off.
They responded brilliantly and served up an opening 40 minutes of rugby that will rank with the best ever played in the illustrious history of this great competition.
An elated Plumtree's celebration was tempered by the sad passing of his great friend on the eve of the match.
"John was a big part of the Sharks and we played a couple of games in his honour last year," Plumtree said. "He was very sick. Bashie (assistant coach Grant Bashford) and I were very close to him. We sat next to him for an hour and a half on Friday morning before he died.
"It was one of the toughest things that's ever happened to me. It put things in perspective.
"It made us realise that rugby is a game and so we decided to go out there and play without fear."
The Sharks were also stung by a series of coaches and former players predicting a WP win. They used the predictions as fuel in their preparations and it showed.
After conceding an early penalty they took control of the match, scoring tries through scrumhalf Charl McLeod and flyhalf Pat Lambie, to run up a healthy 23-3 lead heading into halftime.
Lambie contributed 25 points in total with a second try at the end of the match. WP scored a try through captain Schalk Burger on halftime to narrow the gap, but with a 13-point lead the Sharks always looked comfortable.
"During the build-up no one gave us a chance and the so-called experts said that we were going to lose and that galvanised us," Plumtree said.
"This is possibly one of the best team efforts we've produced if you consider that we beat the two Super 14 finalists to win this trophy [they beat the Bulls 16-12 in the semifinal] and that can't be underestimated."