With all the gloom and grumbling, the cynics and sceptics; a change of perspective is sure to cheer up South African sports fanatics. Let’s inspect the protea’s roots rather than its flower, the springbok’s calf rather than the aging father – and you’ll soon be cheerier than Newlands cricket ground on Boxing Day. Here’s why:
Hitting the C-word out the park
We’ve heard the C-word muttered so many times from disgruntled South Africans when talking about our country’s national cricket team, that we too are practically choking – choking on all the negative tweets and Facebook posts shoved down our throats on our feeds after another Proteas slip-up.
Nobody doubts the ability of our players and the size of the pool that selectors are fortunate enough to dip into. It’s closing out the matches that matter and performing when under the cosh that fans would like to see more of.
Well look no further than Varsity Cricket. While a fiery young UWC side were facing a tournament exit, chasing a mammoth T20 total of 201 and six wickets down, they were steered home in the final over. Mattthew Parks slogged four sixes in the final over to upset Maties and send UWC through to the semi-finals.
Character was again on display as UWC defeated the seemingly invincible favourites UJ, to reach the final. And although they lost that match – their opponents still told the story of what our cricket demands. The defending champions, Tuks, fought their way to a second consecutive title. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. They will now attempt to defend their Red Bull World Cricket title later this year, and hopefully turn the C-word into “character” or even “champions”. Take your pick.
Forget placing our Olympic eggs in one basket; SA now has more baskets
Never has there been as much excitement in the build-up to an Olympic Games for South Africa. We no longer have all our medal hopefuls in one basket. It’s no longer up to one swimming team to bring us glory.
This year’s Varsity Athletics meetings were of a truly world class standard. Athletes included the fastest man in Africa Akani Simbine, Olympic silver medallist Caster Semenya and Rushwahl Samaai, ranked in the top four long jumpers in the world for 2016, just to name a few.
Not forgetting 2015 Varsity Athletics sensation, Wayde van Niekerk, who became the only man in the world to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, 200m in under 20 seconds and 400m in under 44 seconds. South African track and field is as strong as it’s ever been and our athletes are better equipped than ever before.
Sevens is only going to get stronger thanks to Varsity 7s
Sevens is one of the youngest sports in our country and possibly the fastest growing one too. Not only is South Africa blessed with some of the most talented sevens athletes in the sport, but there is an energy and support around the team from South Africans second to none at the moment.
The Blitzboks are ranked second in the world, they’ve won a Commonwealth gold medal, and all this success with no school level sevens to equip young players. With the introduction of Varsity 7s, young players will be introduced to the sport at a younger age. Universities now have designated sevens coaches and the overlap of players between fifteens and sevens lessens, as players now specialise in the sevens code.
Neil Powell and his Blitzboks were in attendance at the 2016 Varsity 7s when a Maties squad containing just three of the players who reached the Varsity Cup final, defeated a lively UWC to win their third Varsity 7s title in style. Sevens is very quickly moving up the list of players’ career options, as it is now a viable option. And Varsity 7s is behind the players and the sport with the support of an Eben Etzebeth, backing his props and hooker from the second row.
Varsity Hockey filling a void
Hockey fans are a special breed. They are as passionate about their sport as any. The club systems in South Africa are plentiful and the majority very well run. The national team has gone head-to-head with the world’s best.
Even qualifying for the Olympics, they are unlucky not to be in Rio, preparing for the pinnacle of the sport. But while rugby fans are indulging on a banquet of Super Rugby, Currie Cup, Varsity Cup, Sevens and arguably the best schoolboy rugby in the world; hockey fans are starved of tournaments and live events of those levels. And financially players cannot devote themselves to a career in hockey without looking abroad to places such as Holland and Belgium.
But fans and players refuse to let this hinder them. Like the Spartans in 300, hockey fans feel outnumbered, but stand strong determined. Come rain or shine, they’ll be out to support. And Varsity Hockey was evidence thereof. Packed Stellenbosch and UJ astros were proof of the number of hockey fans eager to lap up the action at a rare hockey watering hole, despite sub 10-degree weather.
Those who couldn’t attend were treated to matches live on SuperSport. If Varsity Hockey has anything to do with it, in years to come what feels like season of drought will turn to a flood of hockey action.
Varsity Netball takes centre court
Our ladies don’t get the credit they deserve. Much like the hockey community, netball players and fans are a die-hard brand. Players juggle careers to pay the bills while trying to fit in practices for their national teams. And yet SA Netball’s ladies are ranked fifth in the world.
The support at Varsity Netball has been overwhelming. And it’s not just the entertainment value that has exceeded expectations over the past four years. No less than 10 of the 14 players representing the Proteas in the recent series against Wales were current or former Varsity Netball players.
That’s 71 percent! In university terms you’d say Varsity Netball earned its distinction, and its stamp of approval is green and gold.