- Springbok World Cup stars Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am were in superb touch for the Sharks in 2020
- The pair brought a ‘bubbling energy’ to Durban ahead of the Super Rugby season
- Sharks were top of Super Rugby log when tournament was suspended due to coronavirus
We will never know what the Sharks would have achieved in Super Rugby 2020, but when the tournament was suspended at the end of March this year, the Durbanites were in pole position.
Seven rounds of fixtures had been completed at that stage, with the Sharks having secured top spot in both the South African conference and on the overall log with six wins and their Australasian tour done and dusted.
Under the leadership of new coach Sean Everitt, the Sharks were playing an exciting brand of rugby that thrived in its lethal counter-attacking.
There was an undeniable chemistry forming with the likes of Sikhumbuzo Notshe and James Venter in the loose trio and Curwin Bosch, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am in the backline in particular form.
It all fed into the positivity that was surrounding South African rugby at the start of the year given the incredible story of the Springboks’ triumph at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Two of the stars of that tournament and the men who combined for South Africa’s first-ever try in a Rugby World Cup final, Mapimpi and Am, have gone from strength to strength since returning to KwaZulu-Natal.
Am was given the Sharks captaincy ahead of Super Rugby and was thriving, while Mapimpi was a leader in his own right through his devastating finishing that has been a hallmark of his game for the last three years.
Mapimpi and Am are two of the biggest stories to have emerged from the Bok class of 209, and according to Sharks flank James Venter, they were key to preparations for 2020.
“I don’t think they came back with any different personality or persona around them, but they just came back with this bubbly confidence,” the 23-year-old Venter told Sport24 this week.
“They had this excitement to play rugby and we obviously looked up to them and they definitely inspired us.
“From day one on the training field knowing that your boys are back and we saw what they were able to do in Japan, knowing that you’re going to be sharing a field with them and they’re going to be playing with you and for the same common goal was really motivating.”
Venter himself remembers exactly how special it was watching the 2019 final with his family on the KZN south coast having just left the Golden Lions and putting pen to paper to join the Sharks from 2020.
“My family loves rugby and they watch every game, so for them it was special to have me there and it was special for me to be around them for such an amazing time,” he said.