DURBAN - The Sharks host Western Province at Kings Park this weekend in a match that will also be remembered as a tribute to the elder statesman of South African rugby, Odwa Ndungane, and if ever the weather gods needed to smile on a occasion it will be at 3pm on Saturday, even it if is just for 80 minutes!
The Sharks have played their last two Currie Cup games in torrential rain at the Shark Tank, and on Tuesday the players were literally marooned in the Stadium gym when Kings Park was flooded.
After that devastating storm, Ndungane has now seen it all in a remarkable career in Durban that has culminated in 248 caps for the Sharks.
Saturday will be number 249, next week’s home semi-final could be 250 (injury and selection permitting), and a fairy-tale ending would be 251 in a successful final.
But he has been around far too long to get beyond the goal of defeating a desperate Province side this week.
“Obviously, we want to go all the way, and the last thing we want is to go into a semi-final having lost a game,” Ndungane said.
“Fortunately, we are in a unique position on the log in that we are not under pressure to make the semis, so we can focus very much on improving on our last outing (the win against the Lions). We must just keep on getting better.”
However it pans out over the next few weeks, the 36-year-old is content that he is bowing out with the Sharks having laid the foundations for an exciting new era.
“If you look at the talent coming through, the likes of Curwin Bosch, the Du Preez twins (Dan and Jean-Luc), Sbu Nkosi, Jeremy Ward, there are so many... and add in a few older heads like Keegan Daniel, Tera Mtembu, Ruan Botha, Michael Claassens, and there is a really good mix. The future looks bright and the big thing is to keep this group together as long as possible," Ndungane said.
"This Currie Cup is massive for us. If we can win it and take momentum into Super Rugby, it will be a massive boost. I will be sitting in the stands watching with interest.”
He will probably have his kids on his knees. A staunch family man, the wing explained the meaning behind the sign he made after scoring a try against the Lions, which was captured when the TV cameras zoomed in on him.
“I was dedicating the try to my kids, the sign was an A for Amahle and Anathi,” Ndungane said. In a nutshell, that humility and his strong values sum up why Ndungane has made a lasting impression on youngsters in the Sharks squad over the years.
Going back in time, Odwa and his twin Akona first played for Border and then went to the Bulls. Akona had a fine career in Pretoria before being forced to retire because of injury, but Odwa chose to make his fortune in Durban.
“I had a one-year contract with the Bulls and when I was there I had a phone call from (Sharks coach) Kevin Putt asking me to come to the Sharks in 2005," Ndungane recalled.
“I needed no second invitation. The Sharks were my team growing up in the Eastern Cape. In the first years of the Super 12, they had an alliance with Eastern Province rugby, so I supported the Sharks as youngster.”
He has been in Durban ever since. He says it is difficult to name the highlights but if hard pushed he points out the surprise Currie Cup final victory over an unbeaten WP team at Newlands in 2013.
“There have been some very good seasons for the Sharks but more important than the trophies are the lifelong friends I have made through the sport, and the fact that much of my career paralleled that of my brother, who reached some great heights with the Bulls. We have so much to cherish from this game.”
Ndungane also played nine Tests for South Africa and values every cap.
“So many good players do not get a chance to represent their country. I did it nine times and that is fine with me. I had the honour of playing in that jersey and grateful for every minute,” he reflected.
Finally he gives the secret to his longevity.
“Ha ha there is no secret,” he laughed. “For me it really comes down to the fact that I never lost my love for the game and I kept on enjoying playing as the seasons went by.
"When you are enjoying what you do, you don’t mind putting in the hard work to stay on top of your game. There is also the reality that I never suffered serious injury. God blessed me.”