Lloyd Burnard – Sport24
The first ever Super Rugby final in 1996 was largely one-way traffic as a Jonah Lomu-inspired Blues emerged comfortable 45-21 victors over the Natal Sharks, scoring six tries at Eden Park to just two from their visitors.
Back in those days, making a Super Rugby playoff was no mean feat. There were 12 sides competing from three countries, everybody played everybody and only the top four on the log at the end of the regular season would qualify for the semi-finals.
The Sharks had snuck into fourth place despite losing their last two home matches of the season, but they were at their clinical best as they downed the table-topping Reds 43-25 in their Brisbane semi-final thanks to a hat-trick from Cabous van der Westhuizen and a brace from fullback Andre Joubert.
The final, though, was a bridge too far.
There is rather comical clip that stands out when watching the highlights of that clash between the Blues and Sharks.
Lomu, who had opened the scoring after breaking through a tackle from Joubert, looked set to run in his second just minutes later after pouncing on a loose ball around 70 metres out.
Lomu beat James Small for pace and was cantering through to score under the posts when, out of nowhere, Sharks skipper Gary Teichmann made the tackle after emptying the tank and chasing Lomu down the whole way.
It was a courageous show of perseverance from the Natal No 8, who looked to have saved his side seven points. Instead, Lomu popped up to a waiting Carlos Spencer, who strolled over unchallenged.
It was a gutting moment for Teichmann.
That Sharks side of the late 1990s in the earliest years of Super Rugby will go down as one of the best that South Africa has ever produced in the tournament.
Under Ian McIntosh, they made the semi-finals again in 1997 and 1998 but had to travel to New Zealand on both occasions, going down to the Blues in Auckland (55-36) and then the Crusaders in Canterbury (36-32).
The success of the Sharks during that period – they were crowned Currie Cup champions in 1995 and 1996 with Teichmann as skipper – was a major factor in Teichmann, a player who had the respect of his peers and opponents, being handed the Springbok captaincy.
Gary Teichmann celebrates winning the Currie Cup in 1995 …
Still considered by many to be one of the most natural leaders in Bok history, Teichmann was captain when Nick Mallett’s side went on a famous 17-Test winning streak.
He was controversially dropped from the squad ahead of the 1999 World Cup with Mallett instead backing Joost van der Westhuizen as the leader of the group and Bobby Skinstad as his No 8.
It signified the end of Teichmann’s playing days in South Africa and he headed up north to Newport in Wales where he saw out the rest of his playing days.
Looking back now, he laughs at that Lomu moment.
The Sharks have never been able to get over the line in Super Rugby despite having played in four finals – 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2012.
There have been some seriously good sides out of Durban along the way, but that first side of the 1990s is difficult to beat.
Teichmann, Joubert, Henri Honiball, Mark Andrews, James Small, Dick Muir, Wayne Fyvie, Adrian Garvie … these were the stalwarts.
“They were quality players but we had such a good team environment,” Teichmann tells Sport24.
“Today, the guys are all still mates. You don’t have to see each other everyday but when we do catch up, it’s like we’re back to where we were.
“It was just a very good bunch of guys. We were lucky.”
In those first three years of Super Rugby, every time the Sharks were knocked out of the competition, they lost in New Zealand. Failure to secure home ground advantage in the playoffs, Teichmann believes, is what ultimately cost the Sharks as shot at landing the trophy.
“That Auckland Blues side was such a quality side,” he remembers.
“It was a tough competition in those days when you played everyone. I think other than securing those home semi-finals, we did all we could. We just enjoyed it.
“South Africans have certainly become far better travellers in recent times. I think a lot of it is a mindset.”
While the future of Super Rugby is more uncertain than ever given the current coronavirus pandemic and constant rumblings of South African franchises contemplating moves to Europe, Teichmann is one of the old school who would be happier seeing the competition return to a strength versus strength, everybody plays everybody format.
“There are a whole lot of challenges that come with it in terms of travel, but not taking those things into account, people want to watch sport competitions that have integrity and that are honest,” he says.
“People want to see the best competing. I don’t know that they want to see teams qualifying for playoffs ahead of other teams because of what they did in their own conference.”
After returning to South Africa following his playing days, Teichmann found himself back at Kings Park and started serving on the Sharks board in 2005. In 2016, he became the CEO of the union.
He has since stepped down from that role, making way for the incoming Eduard Coetzee, but he remains involved.
“I keep in touch with Ed and help where I can. I’m just there as a sounding board for Ed and I think he’s doing a great job,” Teichmann says.
Currently holed up in the KZN Midlands with his family, Teichmann is kept busy full-time at Teichmann Construction, which is based in Durban but has projects all over the African continent.
He is enjoying the time away from the boardroom, but his love for the union means that he follows developments closely, lending a helping hand whenever he can.
“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. When I got there, we all agreed that we had too many professional players and it was a gradual thing to try and reduce that,” he said.
“With what’s happening now, they’re going to have to. I think South African rugby took a view that that the more professional players we had, the better off we were. I think it maybe created a bit of mediocrity.”
Lloyd Burnard – Sport24