CAPE TOWN - Western Province's Currie Cup challenge at Kings Park on Saturday (3pm kickoff) got a little bit tougher when the Sharks announced that their final round-robin game of the competition would double as a tribute match to Odwa Ndungane, one of South African rugby’s great stalwarts.
Ndungane will play his 249th match for the Sharks and his teammates will be wanting to mark the tribute game with a fitting performance for the highly popular 36-year-old, who will retire at the end of the Currie Cup season.
The Sharks have already qualified for a home semi-final next weekend.
Ndungane has mentored a number of young Sharks in his distinguished career and is highly revered for his humility and ability. He is respectfully regarded as “the elder” by a number of the younger players.
The long-serving wing has never considered playing overseas and has in fact played more than 300 first-class games in South Africa - 49 for Border (he was born in Mthatha) and 12 for the Bulls before he joined the Sharks in 2005.
He played nine Tests for the Springboks. But he is synonymous with the Sharks and the unusual act of a union dedicating a match to him reflects his standing in the game in South Africa.
“Odwa epitomises what it means to be a professional rugby player and over the years his dedication, loyalty and contribution to the team remained unwavering,” Sharks coach Robert du Preez said.
“It is fitting that we honour a player that has given so much to the game and those around him with a tribute match that will highlight his tremendous career. We encourage our fans to come to Kings Park on Saturday to celebrate and acknowledge the massive impact he has made during his remarkable career.”
Ndungane is part of an elite group of players to have played more than 100 Super Rugby and 100 Currie Cup games for the Sharks.
The Sharks enjoyed a bye last week and will be close to full strength against Province, with returning (but unused) Boks Dan Du Preez and Sbu Nkosi likely to slot back in (as they did when they returned from a brief trip with the Boks in Bloemfontein a fortnight ago).
As much as the players will be playing for Odwa, they will not let the occasion sidetrack them from the focus of maintaining momentum going into the semi-finals.
“We went into the bye on 10 out of 10 and even better will be 11 out of 11 before the semis,” forwards coach Jaco Pienaar said.
“The players have worked so hard to get to where they are at this stage of the season and nobody wants to let it slip now, and we know we will (be) up against a team that has everything to play for.”
WP need to win in Durban to secure second spot on the standings and earn a home semi-final.