After eight weeks of exciting and scintillating 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, 3680 minutes, with only two teams remain standing. 80 minutes stand between Swallows and Progress and their lap of glory, the epitome of greatness to be called champions and the best team in the province. This after both came of mouth-watering semi-final clashes over the weekend.
It couldn’t be 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 Champions captain, Siya Kolisi, in attendance sparking further fuel on an already blistering ambience.
Bombers, spurred on by the Springbok captain, came out with guns blazing to score two tries to lead 12-0. Progress seems to lack the killer instinct when presented with scoring opportunities and fluffed three clear chances. However, the boot of their flyhalf kept the score ticking. In the second half the host came out a different outfit, trailing 19-9, tactical changes worked wonders as they scored two tries to lead 23-19. Bombers fought valiantly to hit back, with Progress defence resolute, and they had to be content with a penalty for a 23-22 score-line.
Swallows started as clear favourites, but Ncerha Leopards had other ideas and came to play. Leopards led 8-7 at a point to take the fight to the host. Swallows with their experience weathered the storm to race to a 27-8 lead. Ncerha is known for their never-say-die attitude and it was no difference as they fought back to trail by 7 points at 27-20. Swallows added a penalty for a 30-20 win.
What does this mean for both teams? Swallows have won the rights to host the final after both teams went unbeaten in the group stages. A coin toss determined the right to host the final. It’s a second final for Swallows in three years, after winning the competition in 2018. It is the third final for Progress after suffering two heart-breaking defeats in previous years. Is it third time lucky for them? Both teams come in as champions of their respective Unions, Swallows the Border champs While Progress is the EP champs.
Ahead of the final, while the headline message is different, the underlying philosophy is the same, to take the pressure of the team with both teams exceptional in both attack and defence. Public opinion is split as who the favourites is going into the final, with Swallows having a slight advantage due to home ground. Being an underdog can be a motivating factor. The thought of exceeding expectations against all odds and proving a point, especially away from home. Progress comes 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 strategies and come even stronger”. Captain Michael De Vos echoed his coaches’ sentiments and said that they want 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 entire squad to do the job.
Meanwhile, the favourites are seen to be under more pressure because of expectations to win from the home fans. Swallows Ntando Kebe stated that his team have a plan for the final and knows that it won’t be easy but as a team need to stay focused and do the right thing in the right arears with execution key. They are expecting Progress to run with ball in
hand, 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 as a team 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 array of stars to do the damage on their opponents. The stage is set at Buffalo City Stadium, 3.30 pm. Who wants it more? Winning takes the precedents over all. There’s 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.”