Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Toulon have progressively climbed the ladder in the Top 14 and now find themselves within site of achieving the ultimate goal. Ross Skeate, Toulon lock and regular RD columnist, gives us a philosophical insight as to how the team got to where they are today.
On Monday night I spent the majority of the evening watching Jonny Wilkinson receive a Midi Olympique "Player Oscar" for the best player of the month... awarded post humourously... or is that humously? I can't remember and its probably neither anyway. But basically its awarded after the month that it was intended for.
The last one I attended (I use the word loosely because I didnt really have a choice in the matter) was Joe Van Niekerk's last year. I think mine's on the way somewhere, probably got lost in the post.
Anyhoo, I'm getting a little side tracked here. On attending Jonny's award I couldnt help but ponder how significant certain decisions and events can significantly steer the course of a player's career. For better or worse in some cases - in Jonny's case, there's not all that much worse.
For Jonny the significant turning point which signaled his ascension to the top of the world stage (not to mention a million hearts, although he was a pretty capable player long before) was his famous World Cup winning drop kick. And in so many other careers (rugby and otherwise) there was that moment of success that proved to be the catalyst of the rest of a very long and successful career.
Yes, but what I am talking about are the hours of dedication, obstacles and trials that mixed with the right amount of great decision making that led to the breaking, or in Jonny's case, making of a great career.
The decisions that led to that point, where a player is put in the moment and it's either make or break. Of course the decisions that influence a rugby career, like so many other things, are not entirely the rugby player's. Ponder if you would for a moment, the amount of decisions of coaches, selector's and administrator's that pave the way for a player's career. Imagine how different a career could be with one team missed, one coach who doesn't favour the player and the subsequent decisions that the player would then make as a result.
Imagine a young Joe Van Niekerk, who burst onto the international senior scene in his early twenties on the back of his freakish athletic ability and then coach Harry Viljoen's confidence and how different his path could have been had Harry selected another bright star in his place.
Here he is nearly a decade later (not even having reached thirty) 50 odd Bok caps to his name and the captain of a Toulon side that has had a great year and find's itself facing Clermont in the Top 14 semi-final and a European Cup final against the Cardiff Blues.
Last year Joe was sitting next to me nudging me awake as the 14th speaker took the mic and even then I had a sense of the grand scheme of decisions and events that led the both of us to that very point in our lives.
In my case it was the decision to pose for Playgirl that led to the subsequent string of films and small bit movie parts. No, I'm not talking about that bit! I mean like the size of the appearances! Nothing else...seriously...stop it.
So while I was sitting there marveling at just how many people had turned out to the event, the absolute bizarreness of the context I found myself in didn't escape me. Let me just reiterate how amazingly passionate the Toulon supporters are, when I say I have never seen anything like it, I mean it. Not even those dudes at Loftus Versfeld painted blue with rings in their noses hold a candle to the Toulon supporters and hence the packed auditorium with queues of people jostling to try find their way inside.
So I continue to marvel! How is it that after growing up running round the field's of S.A.C.S. Junior school (Percy Montgomery's Alma Mater) barefoot with my young mates, worrying more about who was invited to whose birthday party .I now find myself watching Jonny throwing his best French around on stage while Felipe Contempomi and Tana Umaga look on?
How did this team of such varied individuals make it to the same place in the south of France after playing against each other for so many years before, and how did we find ourselves coming to the business end of a successful competition where we have found the very differences between each other and our varied backgrounds, to be our strength?
Is it coincidence or fate that brought us to this point? Is it that the immense amount of decisions and obstacles faced and opportunities taken have been designed in a way that we would all intersect our stories at this point in our lives?
I guess those are questions of a far more philosophical nature but no matter what realist/nihilist/fatalist theories you may have; it's very hard to deny the beauty of this moment.
So anyway, as we look ahead to the final stages of the season, both the European Cup and Heineken Cup take on a very French flavour demonstrating just how strong French rugby is this year we buckle down for the week leading up to our semi-final clash I cannot express enough just how proud of what we've done as a team, and what I have achieved personally since I have joined the club.
When I arrived just short of two years ago, we were facing relegation at the bottom of the Top 14 table, since then we have experienced a gradual and successful climb to where we are now.
Finishing that season with a great run of wins towards the end of the season leaving us well out of relegation fears and strongly mid-table (a very Bath-esque turn around); and this year has seen us remain unbeaten since January this year. Ironically our last loss was against Clermont, (I didn't play...*cough* *cough*) plus were in a European final to boot.
Itll be even the more special if we manage to come away with some silverware at the end of the season, in both if my wishes permit, but either way as a club weve come full- circle, something Im proud to have been a part of.
Hope to have you all behind us against Clermont in Saint Etienne on Saturday.