After eight weeks of exciting clashes between the best rugby players in the province, the 2020 Eastern Cape Super 14 rugby competition has come down to one final game on Saturday. It has taken 46 games and only two teams remain standing. 80 minutes stand between Swallows and Progress and their lap of glory, to be called champions and the best team in the province. This comes after both came out of mouth-watering semi-final clashes over the weekend.
It could not have been any closer as Progress booked their semi-final spot with a 23-22 win over African Bombers in an electric atmosphere at the Central Fields in Uitenhage. Stakes doubled in the highly-charged match with the presence of Springbok and World Champion captain Siya Kolisi in attendance, addingto the already blistering ambience. Bombers, spurred on by the Springbok captain, came out all guns blazing to score two tries and lead 12-0. Progress seem to lack the killer instinct when presented with scoring opportunities and fluffed three clear chances. However, the boot of their flyhalf kept the scoreboard ticking over. In the second half the hosts came out a different outfit, trailing 19-9, but tactical changes worked wonders as they scored two tries to lead 23-19. Bombers fought valiantly to hit back, but with Progress’ defence resolute, they had to be content with a penalty and a 23-22 score-line.
Swallows started as clear favourites, but Ncerha Leopards had other ideas. Leopards led 8-7 at a point to take the fight to the hosts. Swallows, with their experience, weathered the storm to race to a 27-8 lead. Ncerha are known for their never-say-die attitude and it was no different as they fought back to trail by seven points at 27-20. Swallows added a penalty for a 30-20 win.
What does this mean for both teams? Swallows have won the right to host the final after both teams were unbeaten in the group stages. A coin toss determined the host of the final. It is a second final for Swallows in three years, after winning the competition in 2018 and the third final for Progress after suffering two heartbreaking defeats in previous years. Is this third time lucky for them? Both teams come in as champions of their respective unions, Swallows being the Border champs while Progress are top of the EP pops.
Both teams are exceptional on attack and defence. Public opinion is split as to who the favourites are, with Swallows having a slight advantage due to home ground. But being the underdog can be a motivating factor as there is the thought of exceeding expectations against all odds and proving a point, especially away from home. Progress come in with confidence. Coach Eric Toring said: “We are confident of doing the job in East London with one mission only, and that is to bring the trophy home. We are going to look at the semi-final, realign our strategy and be even stronger”. Captain Michael de Vos echoed his coach’s sentiments and said that they wanted to bring it back for the community of Uitenhage. They are focused on their strengths and have capable players in Sachin Toring, Denver Jones, Riaan Arends, Deon Plaatjies, Sonwabo Majola, Davian Swanepoel and the whole squad to do the job.
Meanwhile, the favourites are seen to be under more pressure because of expectations to win from their fans. Swallows’ Ntando Kebe said his team have a plan for the final and know it will not be easy, but they need to stay focused and do the right thing in the right areas with execution the key. They are expecting Progress to run with the ball, but they have a plan to counter that. He stated: ”It means a lot for the team to fight for the number one spot in the province and it is due to the hard work and sacrifices we put in as we always set goals for ourselves.” Swallows can call on Onke Dubase, Samora Fihlani, Yanga Xakalashe, Billy Dutton, Siyasanga Patti, Tseke Siyobi, Soso Mantyoyi and an array of stars to do the damage on their opponents.
The stage is set for Buffalo City Stadium at 3.30 pm. Who wants it more? Winning takes precedent over all. There is no grey area, there is no ‘almost’. One never remembers the team that came second. As Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”