Monday’s inbox features an excellent letter from an All Blacks supporter wishing to see South Africa become great again.
Keep those thoughts coming to firstname.lastname@example.org to make the next edition.
Why rugby needs the Springbok to be strong again – by a New Zealand supporter
The boerewors were sizzling, the beer was cold, and my heart was pumping as if at any moment it might burst from my chest.
People were everywhere. Groups buzzed excitedly around braai’s; clutching beers. The excitement was almost tangible.
It was 2012 and my wife and I were in South Africa on our honeymoon from New Zealand. I had been before and wanted her to experience the hospitality and natural beauty that only South Africa can offer.
I thought it might also help explain my addiction to dried meats and sausages.
I almost proposed a second time when she suggested our trip coincide with an All Blacks game in Soweto.
And now here we were, being swept along in a sea of green to the magnificent FNB Stadium. I have to be honest; it was a little intimidating. Ok, if I’m being really honest, I was quietly kakking myself.
Despite our host’s best efforts to make us feel welcome, I have never felt quite so alone or far from home as I did then. South African fans regarded us with a mix of curiosity and suspicion.
My wife was wearing the only other black jersey I could see. I felt extremely conspicuous, like I was trapped in the worst ever game of ‘Where’s Wally?’
I love big crowds, especially at sporting events. I love the energy, the noise and the banter. This crowd had all those things and more.
We belted out our national anthem, waved our flags and felt proud to show our colours in the face of so many. Then the huge crowd rose as one for the South African national anthem. We were stunned. I had never experienced anything like it, and nor have I since.
Then came the Haka. This means different things to many Kiwis, but as a passionate rugby fan, for me it meant only one thing: we were preparing for battle.
In front of 88,000 screaming ‘Bok fans Richie McCaw and his men locked eyes with their opposites and roared to the skies. The message was clear: we are coming at you as hard as we can.
The match itself was a blur. Massive bodies hitting each other like planets colliding. As expected, the Springboks were brutal. I don’t know where South Africa keeps finding these enormous human beings.
But this All Black team contained some of the greatest players ever to wear a black jersey and in the end they pulled away to win 32-16.
Any concerns about a hostile post-match crowd quickly dissipated. The locals appreciated the quality of play and appeared genuinely happy to talk rugby, all things South Africa and our mutual dislike of Australian sportspeople in general.
Outside the ground we indulged in the entertainment on offer, until we were too tired to continue. If this is what South African rugby is about, then I was hooked.
Four years have passed since then. On the weekend the All Blacks embarrassed the ‘Boks, scoring nine tries on the way to a record 57 points.
I watched with a mix of incredulity and disappointment as the crowds poured from Kings Park well before the final whistle. Despite the smug collective hand wringing of many of my compatriots, this victory felt hollow.
Was this the same rugby mad nation we travelled, proud supporters only a beer and braai away in any direction? The same country that won two world cups, never let Jonah Lomu cross their line and refused to concede a home series defeat against the All Blacks for 75 years?
Is this the same country that produced players like Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, the Du Plessis brothers and Schalk Burger? These were players who commanded respect and threw themselves about with a level of disregard for personal safety that could make a suicide bomber doubt their own commitment.
I would hate to think the next Schalk Burger or Victor Matfield could be watching from the sidelines, or playing in France because his skin is the wrong colour.
I know race issues in South Africa are complex and I’m not attempting to belittle these. But the quota system doesn’t work.
There is no question there is plenty of depth in South African rugby, but this is being diluted at the highest level, where it should be strongest.
I don’t have the answers and it would be patronising of me to suggest I do. But as a passionate rugby fan, and someone who has immensely enjoyed his time in South Africa, something needs to change.
Many NZ rugby fans quietly fear the day the Springboks might add running rugby to compliment their monster forward packs.
The Lions showed this season how electrifying and successful this can be. They managed to employ a style of play rarely displayed by South African teams outside of the Currie Cup. It was exhilarating to watch.
But whether this style would work for the current Springboks side, or whether Allister Coetzee is the man to implement it – I don’t know.
What I do know is that international rugby is more enjoyable with a strong South African team doing what they do best – playing with heart, pride and never taking a backward step against anyone, especially on home soil.
As a fan of rugby I just want to see the best players compete against each other at the highest level – who doesn’t?
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