K-Dawg is the inspiration
TO ALL of those writing off the Sharks' understandably slim chances of winning this year's Super 15 title, consider the determined nature of the dog of war who will lead them into their mission improbable against the Chiefs on Saturday.
When Keegan Daniel made the Springbok end-of-year touring squad in 2010, his first XV coach at Dale College admitted that he never thought he had it in him.
"He wasn't exactly the biggest chap around. Back then he weighed about 80kg," Carl Spilhaus said at the time.
"But he was a helluva focused, intense guy, so I have no doubt that in his mind he felt he would make it as a professional rugby player."
With school finished, the aptly named Daniel packed his bags and headed for the relative lions' den of the Sharks rugby academy (for a player not considered to be particularly hot property).
Unlike most of the scholarship kids there, he paid the tuition out of his pocket and cornered the market on proving people wrong every day.
That the flanker, who has "filled" out to a scarcely imposing 96kg, will lead the Sharks to what they hope will be their first Super rugby title tells you everything about the man who calls himself K-Dawg - he doesn't take "no" for an answer.
As a result, when he stands up in front of his team to tell them they can somehow beat the Chiefs, his very presence in the room should be proof that the impossible is possible.
Without making too fine a point on the obstacles facing them, the Sharks are bidding to win their first Super rugby title, having travelled to Australia, South Africa and back to New Zealand in a little over two weeks.
To win, they have to become the first team to do it from last on the play-off spots.
They will also have to manage it by beating all three conference winners in successive weekends.
Were they to do it, they would also be the first team to win the title by travelling outside their country.
The Crusaders did it against the Brumbies once, but hopping across the ditch doesn't count. Conventional wisdom says it can't be done, but Daniel wouldn't know conventional wisdom if it spear-tackled him.
The Sharks' surge to the Super 15 final has been attributed to a lot of things: a balanced playing pattern; an all-Springbok front row; an unplayable back row; an intelligent and unpredictable flyhalf; and the resurgence of JP Pietersen and the hitherto unspectacular Louis Ludik.
But the Durban side's fate may well have been sealed the day they named Daniel their captain.
Sharks coach John Plumtree doesn't dabble in inspiration, but opting for Daniel as his captain was an inspired decision.
A devout Christian, Daniel leads with honesty, empathy and by example.
But what he's really done for the team is convince some more talented but complacent Sharks players that if a physically underprivileged specimen like him can punch above his weight on a weekly basis, the least they can do is punch their weight.
Suddenly Tendai Mtawarira is finally displaying the mongrel expected of a "Beast", Bismarck du Plessis is being responsible to his immense talent by reining himself in, and Pietersen is bossing games in a manner befitting his gifts, to cite a few case studies.
And with that kind of example set for them, racehorses like Marcell Coetzee and Paul Jordaan have followed suit.
In the same way that being a Springbok was once a distant dream for Daniel, winning the Super rugby title has been an elusive feat for the Sharks.
What's the chance he helps them prove us all wrong on Saturday?