Maritzburg United: Quo Vadis?

So much sport, so little time. So many more questions than answers – that’s what struck me after yet another jam-packed sporting weekend.

Perhaps the most vexing local question is, Maritzburg United: Quo Vadis? But not so much if or why they would leave our city, but rather why they have failed to attract a sponsor? Why have none of our big companies seen fit to sponsor our PSL team of choice, and receive all the TV exposure? The KZN government and the District Municipality upgraded Harry Gwala Stadium. Our municipality, which owns the stadium, gave Maritzburg United free use of the facility, but why hasn’t our Chamber of Business taken the lead in trying to encourage local sponsorships, as visiting teams and fans boost the local economy? Maritzburg United have put our city on the national map as never before, so why, why, why are no sponsors forthcoming?

The announcement of the squad for this week’s training camp in Durban – mercifully not a Camp Staalgraad – throws some light on who is likely to don the green and gold in June. But who will be the “Kaptein”: Jean de Villiers or Victor Matfield? Even more intriguing is how will the Boks shape? What are our chances, based on Super Rugby games? Well the Sharks are top of the log, but they squeeze out wins rather than score tries, and the only other South African team in contention is the Bulls. The Australian teams are very good ball handlers – Waratah’s full back, Israel Folau, has scored ten tries – but they lack forwards, while the New Zealand teams blow hot and cold. One gets the sneaking feeling that the leading All Blacks, such as Dan Carter who is on sabbatical, and Richie McCaw, Kieran Reid, Israel Dagg and co., are merely going through the motions, and saving themselves for next year’s world cup, while the Boks will play 14 tests this year.

It was a treat to watch the Toulon vs Saracens Heineken Cup Final – played under the roof of Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium, while the Stormers and Cheetahs slid all over a wet and windy Newlands. Fittingly, Jonny Wilkinson led Toulon to victory and will now retire. He has been a credit to the game: humble, dedicated, a superb kicker with both feet, and very unusually, except for Henry Honiball, a fly half who tackled. Several South Africans were on display, with Schalk Brits impressive for Saracens, but the real eye opener was Juan Smith. Showing that he has fully recovered from a serious Achilles tendon injury, Smith was magnificent on defence and with ball in hand. In the movement that led to his try, he showed more skill than Willem Alberts, Schalk Burger and Duane Vermuellen put together. Imagine, I wonder if Heyneke Meyer can, a flank who actually passes the ball. From the sublime to the ridiculous, quite why the Sharks have contracted roly-poly Matt Stevens for the Currie Cup is beyond me.

The bombshell over the weekend was the ‘leak’ about a forensic audit being underway at the Sharks. Is it justified or is it a witch hunt? The ‘’leak’ was confirmed but no details proffered, so who knows? It would be reassuring to all Sharks supporters – we who buy the tickets, the replica jerseys (which change with each new sponsor), caps and flags – to be let in on the financial situation. We only learnt last week, that the Sharks bought Jake White out of his contract with the Brumbies, and that he is being sued for a breach in his contract which prohibited him from coaching any other Super Rugby team for two years. So, results aside, White is proving to be costly, with his winning ugly game plan resulting in the Sharks playing in front of a half-empty Kings Park. As is the case with Maritzburg United, Sharks supporters need to know what and why?

Two other stirring European events also took place. In Lisbon, Atletico Madrid could not hold on in extra time, and Real Madrid lifted the UEFA Champions League Trophy. Throw in Barcelona with an Argentinian, Messi, a Brazilian(Neymar), and Real’s goals being scored by Ronaldo( born on the Portuguese Island of Madeira) and Bale(Wales), and the Spanish League is arguably the best.

Just to finish off, and make us feel like colonials, the Monaco Grand Prix – what a street track and what a setting – saw a Mercedes one two.

Rob Haswell

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