CAPE TOWN – Few things in sport can beat a good ol’ derby. But do they still mean as much?
Ahead of a derby, it’s fairly common to hear players and coaches talking about the magnitude of such a fixture and the excitement that comes with it. The age-old north-south derby between Western Province and the Blue Bulls is one of South Africa’s most anticipated clashes, and it’s highlighted many a Currie Cup weekend, for the fans and the teams itself.
When there’s a derby involved, motivation goes up. Expectation goes up. Maybe there’s even a spike in focus and hunger for the win. After all, you don’t want to allow your rivals to walk away with the bragging rights, right?
One man who recently tapped into the power of the derby is Chiefs coach Colin Cooper. Ahead of their match against the Blues last weekend- which turned out to be an absolute thriller - Cooper played a video message from Toulon-based Liam Messam to the team 90 minutes before kickoff.
In his message, the former club skipper and most-capped Chiefs player (179 matches) spoke about what the rivalry between the Chiefs and the Blues is all about. The Chiefs went on to secure a 33-29 victory, stretching what was already a record Super Rugby winning streak (15 matches) between any two teams. Cooper said he figured that Messam would be able to best explain how huge the fixture is.
“When I first moved to the Chiefs I didn’t realise the rivalry between Auckland and Hamilton, or the Blues and Chiefs,” Cooper said. “Liam Messam gave me a good message last year about it, so we used him to talk to the group again before this game. He’s certainly still helping us from afar.”
Messam’s message may not have been the sole reason for the Chiefs celebrating after the classic match last Saturday, but it certainly would have meant something for the players.
In the modern game, where teams have coaches and players from all over the world, a bit of that original pride and emotion that comes with representing a region you’ve been a part of all your life might be missing.
What we see a lot of nowadays are players being in the position where they can give their new teams extra info in terms of the tactics of their former team ahead of matches.
It’s a question that’s often asked during media sessions if a player’s name is on the teamsheet to face his former side. Or that player is asked if their involvement against said their former team will add any spice to the occasion. With players transferring locally, it’s a trend that is showing no signs of stopping.
But does that mean that the competitive nature of a derby match will continue to dilute, if it has at all?
It could. After all, it only makes sense for a player to be more set on a team or region’s traditions if he’s been part of it all his life or for a long time.
But we can’t control that. Sport has become a business, and the buying of players foreign to a team’s region won’t stop. It will increase.
But there will always be ways to deal with it. After all, Cooper found just one way of doing so.@WynonaLouw