It says a lot for a side to march on in the wake of bitter disappointment. Adversity is perhaps too strong a word, and a dearth of luck is probably the most accurate way to describe the fortunes of Shimlas in the past year.
They were denied entry to the 2006 National Club Championship final by eventual winners Pukke after the match had ended in a 16-16 stalemate, and a spate of injuries disrupted their initial campaign in the Bloemfontein club league this year. However, the strength and character of the side is such that they have fought their way back into contention, and at the time of writing are at the top of the table once again.
For a side that has dominated the Free State club scene to such a degree it would hardly be surprising to see them scoop their third successive city title. In the competitionâ€™s 112-year history, Kovsies have walked away with top honours on 40 occasions. Team manager Ansu Colditz admits she would be thrilled with a 41st win for Shimlas, because it would signify an incredible comeback from where they were a few months ago.
â€˜Itâ€™s been a rocky year for us. We came off two very tough games in the Super Bowl and there were just so many injuries. As a result, we struggled to compete initially and it could be said we were turning out a third or fourth side in those matches. But we have recovered nicely to be at the top of the log with the competition culminating in July,â€™ Colditz remarks.
Shimlas began well by winning the Melrose Sevens in Scotland, being the only South African team on show, and beating Newcastle Falcons 17-10 in the final. Back on common ground and in the extended format, they were thwarted in the Super Bowl by old rivals Pukke. The men from the North West took the spoils in this fixture by downing Shimlas 17-8 in the semi-finals. Once again, the Free Staters had to be content with a third-place finish.
However, the late resurgence in their local league suggests they are building towards a win in the subsequent competitions, and Colditz confirms it would not be an unreasonable ambition to win every piece of silverware on offer. â€˜The SASSU tournament is coming up, so we have obviously targeted that competition. Following that is the intervarsity showdown with Pukke and then the National Club Champs,â€™ she says.
The latter tournament is a sore point for all at Kovsies, given the manner in which they were ejected from the previous event. Shimlas led 10-6 at the break and enjoyed the better share of possession in a tight first 40 minutes. Pukke made a change at flyhalf just before half-time that gave them better fluidity, but they remained frustrated by a well-organised Shimlas defence.
This changed in the second period, with Pukke getting more ball and running everything at Shimlas. In a thrilling last eight minutes, they were rewarded when fullback Riaan Smit succeeded in wrong-footing the cover defence for a timely try. Smit tied up the scores when he goaled a difficult conversion and ultimately saw his side through to the final.
â€˜I found it a strange format,â€™ says a frustrated Colditz. â€˜The conventional method of determining a winner if the scores are level at the final whistle is to play 20 minutes of extra time. After that, it is usually the team that has scored the most tries in the tournament who advances.
â€˜However, Pukke went through because they had scored more tries in the second half. Needless to say, we were a bit dissatisfied with that ruling. We had played so well in the build-up to the semi-final and believe we could have beaten College Rovers for the trophy. In the end, we were just unlucky.â€™
The side has otherwise buried the disappointment and focused on making a success of the current season. Retaining the key combinations will play a significant part in attaining every goal set for the year. â€˜The good news is that weâ€™ve kept a core group of players and havenâ€™t lost any of them to other clubs,â€™ says Colditz. â€˜There are also a number of up-and-coming youngsters who will add a bit extra to our effort this year. We have a number of players who represent the Griffons and Cheetahs junior sides, as well as PW van Vuuren, Wiltonn Pietersen and Marlin Ruiters, who travelled with the SA U19 side to the World Championship in Belfast.
DandrÃ© Gerber is another very special player who featured for the SA Amateur team against Zimbabwe in May.â€™ Management will want to ensure these players peak at the right time, and that is why the next few months are important for the club. Colditz believes the standard of rugby in the Free State has improved and consequently forced Shimlas to raise their game.
â€˜We are at the top now,â€™ says Colditz, â€˜but it has been great to see how competitive the other sides in Bloemfontein have become. There is definitely an increase in terms of depth in quality players in this city and it can only strengthen the rugby in this province.â€™