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Thursday, December 08, 2005

 

Never underestimate South Africa's Position in World Rugby


I have to admit, I had a tear in my eye when I first read this. It annoys me so much that our rugby administrators simply DO NOT recognise the RESPONSIBILITY we hold as a MAIN STREAM rugby playing country in the world. It is simply embarrassing that we let fans like this down with our petty nonsense. FFS, we are looked at by the rest of the world as the NUMBER TWO rugby playing nation in the WORLD!!!!! Geez, SARU, get your freaking act together. I hope someone will post this to the Blue Bulls who deserve the congratulations for creating such a spirit in their stadium. What a story, what a stadium!!!!

Van Rooyen, Stofile et al, get your act together and start understanding the role we need to play to world rugby. You morons.

Canadian Rugby Fan Awestruck at Loftus Versfeld

http://www.oirc.ca/gamereport_men/CBfromSA.shtml

On the weekend of Saturday, October 15th, one of my dreams came true in Pretoria, South Africa. Along with the Canterbury Crusaders from New Zealand, my favourite professional team in all of rugby, the Blue Bulls, which compete in the Currie Cup competition (and Super 14), played in a nail biting, bone-crushing semi-final against long time rivals, the Lions from Johannesburg. Much to my delight, a friend of mine from Pretoria managed to get tickets.

Though I’d watched Canada play international matches against formidable opponents over the years, including the June encounter in Toronto against Wales, this was my first opportunity to attend a high calibre show-down in a truly rugby-obsessed nation. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect introduction to live pro rugby. Four days later, as I sit at my sister’s flat in neighbouring Mozambique, I can’t help but relive one of the greatest weekends of my life.

I decided some rugby fans in Canada, who may just love the greatest game ever invented as much as me, might like to read about my experience.

My dream visit to Pretoria began on Friday afternoon. I was scooped up from the Joberg airport by Shaun, a South African currently visiting family in his hometown, but who now calls Montreal home where he coaches St. Anne de Bellevue RC. We made the short drive back to Pretoria, which is South Africa’s capital for you geographically challenged people. As rugby players and fans, you’ll not be shocked that Sean and I first decided to have a beer on a patio instead of visiting the local cultural sites and attractions in Blue Bull land.

We hadn’t taken two sips from our Castle lagers when one of my favourite players, Victor Matfield, showed up for a quick bite of lunch. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Matfield is one of the premier lock forwards in the world today and possibly the top lineout option out there, though some Kiwis would zealously dispute this. As a relatively short second row, I must have looked like England’s Neil Back without the muscle (nor the rugby skills and money) standing beside Martin Johnson as Matfield walked past me. I simply wished the #5 good luck on Saturday and he responded kindly.

I’ve lived in Canada most of my life and also spent a few years living in the USA. From time to time as most of us have experienced, I would see a professional athlete out in public in various cities across North America. In truth, I was almost indifferent to seeing these athletes who are worshiped by sports fans back home. The big sports in North America are not my cup of tea, though I appreciate the skill and commitment required to play them. Seeing Matfield up close was special. I almost felt like a South African on the inside who was mistakenly born a Canadian in a country where rugby struggles to keep its head above water among tidal waves of hockey, and even football and basketball. I felt strangely at home in a country where the white population and increasingly black population simply love rugby, though soccer is still the most popular sport overall.

Shaun then brought me to Loftus Versfeld where the Bulls would host their opponents the following day. This stadium is holy ground for ruggers in Pretoria and indeed throughout South Africa, and recognized as a bastion of rugby in every top tier nation around the globe. Quite simply, if you want to win in this stadium against the Bulls or the Boks, you’d better bring your A-game wherever you’re from. Loftus holds about 58,000 fans at capacity, which is inconceivable to a Canadian used to watching international matches at Fletcher’s Field or York University with only a few thousand loyal followers.

Shaun, who played for the Pretoria RC once upon a time, a club which consistently fields seven or eight sides, actually had the privilege of playing on the main field a few times in his career. He will never forget the experience. We toured the stadium and my eyes were as wide as saucers and filled with wonderment. I saw the Currie Cup up close (behind glass of course).

The Bulls won the cup last year so for now it belongs to Loftus. The cup has engravings from top to bottom with the names of winning clubs dating back to the late 1800s. Rugby history, tradition, and pride drip from this stadium. The changerooms are so large that teams can warm up in them and flyhalfs and fullbacks can practice their kicking into nets.

Saturday was game day, as it is in Canada. Tens of thousands of Afrikaaners from Pretoria and Lions fans who made the trek from Joberg got an early start on the festivities. If you think our neighbour to the south is the only country to have tailgate parties, think again.

The tailgater outside Loftus was of a massive scale. I’d never seen anything like it. For kilometres, cars and trucks parked along both shoulders of the winding road leading to the stadium. Hordes of screaming Bulls supporters, young and old, men and women, barbecued sausages and burgers, drank copious amounts of beer and brandy and cokes, chatted with friends and strangers about all things rugby, and heckled Lions fans as they walked defiantly towards Loftus in their red jerseys, waving their own flags. As the visitors walked by, Bulls fans yelled: “Are you lost!? You must be in the wrong city!” Cars and trucks carrying excited fans waved blue flags as they passed by. I even saw one flatbed truck with a massive paper mache blue bull in it, surrounded by screaming children. The truck passed by honking, the tailgaters went wild with cheers. Though the Lions and Bulls fans are intensely loyal to their teams (and many were three sheets to the wind), there were only smiles on their faces. I didn’t witness any incidence of hooliganism or fighting.

After consuming a few too many Castle lagers myself, we made our way to the stadium. As we entered Loftus, the atmosphere was electric and I knew I was in for a real display of rugby excellence. The match was not quite sold out but an amazing 47 900 fans were in attendance.

There was a sea of blue encircling the field with a few pockets of red. Blue Bulls flags appeared to be floating in the stands and deafening cheering as the opening whistle was about to blow. I was in awe as the Bulls took the field. How often can you see at least ten current and former Springboks in a line-up up of twenty-two players. The likes of Gary Botha, Bakkies Botha, Richard Bands, Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana and several others. Sadly, one of South Africa’s finest centres who played for the Bulls, Etienne Botha, was killed earlier in the season in a car crash. Botha was an extraordinary talent but somehow never got the nod from the Boks selectors, which I find puzzling.

I won’t devote much space in describing the match because you can read about it on Planet Rugby or other websites.

I can tell you that I’d never contemplated that a match could be so physical.

The commitment to uncompromising tackling was beyond impressive. In the second half, IRB player of the year candidate, Bryan Habana, laid out one the Lions’ backs in what is undoubtedly the biggest tackle I’ve ever witnessed – live or on the television. I’m sure there were more than a few players taking painkillers after the match. Though I’m naturally biased, watching Matfield and Botha in the second row was inspiring – this duo is hard to beat. There was also a memorable ten-point play involving a converted try by the Bulls’ open side flanker, followed by a penalty against the Lions for trying to injure the flanker after he dotted down. In fairness, the Lions played a valiant match – they led at half time and kept the fans on the edges of their seats right to the end. The Lions have a very strong pack and backs who play an expansive game with lots of flair and incredible speed and versatility. It was impressive seeing the Springbok’s fly half, Andre Pretorius, in action for the Lions though he had a relatively lack-lustre performance kicking for points. The final whistle confirmed a 31-22 victory for the boys in blue. Needless to say, the local fans were ecstatic.

I won’t describe the post-game festivities and shenanigans out of fear that my parents may read this. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only Bulls supporter who saw the sun rise on Sunday morning. I had the privilege of speaking with a cauliflower-eared man in his seventies outside Loftus who recounted stories from his rugby days as a boy and young man. I also met up with Pieter Zeeman, a Pretorian rugger who played for then North Transvaal years before. Soon, as he’s fondly nicknamed by friends, coached me when I played for PAC in Washington, DC. Soon played with a lot of legends who suited up for the Boks and he remembers everything about their games. Both men played during an era where referees seldom sent a player to the ‘cooler’ for ten for foul play. When savvy, dirty hookers put Vics Vapour Rub on their eyebrows and ears so the opposing hooker would be virtually blinded in the scrum. They reminded me of Canadian elders I’ve had pints with in Ottawa pubs who had played in arenas, outdoor rinks and on frozen ponds and lakes many moons ago. Canadians are equally knowledgeable and passionate about our game on ice as the Pretorians are about rugby.

On Sunday afternoon in my hung over stupor, I had a bit of an epiphany – which is rare for a tight five player who’s sustained a number of concussions! For years

I’ve had a dream that rugby will one day become a tier one sport in the Great White North. In my mind, this would be accomplished through developing the game in every sense of the word – providing more opportunities for our young players to take up rugby at an earlier age, increasing expertise and capacity for coaching, investing substantial amounts of money into the sport, forming a professional league when the time is right, determining a strategy for marketing and advertising to get existing and new fans out to local, regional and national matches, tapping into the Canadian media and corporate sponsorship for support. In other words, developing a ‘Culture of Rugby’ in Canada far above and beyond the current fringes.

In reality, we occasionally have our own Currie Cup Semi-Finals when one or more of our Canadian teams go the distance. They’re called the NHL Eastern and Western Conference finals. I feel proud that we can call hockey OUR game, even though I’m not the biggest fan. We have a ‘Culture of Hockey’ that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world. Fans from Victoria to Halifax experience elation when the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Senators, Leafs or Canadiens go to the semis or Stanley Cup finals. As adults, we feel and often behave like excited school children in the playground the day of a playoff game and talk about little else. We jam our arenas with tens of thousands of people for games as well, and celebrate or commiserate over beers at the pub afterwards, depending on the final score.

I will always support the game of rugby in Canada. The sobering reality is that rugby will NEVER be as big as in South Africa. Will Canada’s Senior Men’s team join the top-ten ranks over the next five years, ten years, even in my lifetime? Possibly. My experience in Pretoria last Saturday tells me we will never compete with the South Africans, Englands, Australias and New Zealands of the world. Not because we don’t have tremendous athletes, not because we aren’t doing some of the right things to develop the game. We simply don’t have the necessary rugby culture. I understand that now.

While South Africans live, breathe and bleed green and gold, Canadians bleed red and white. We just bleed for another game, another tradition, another obsession.
In Pretoria, they also bleed BLUE.

Chris BjornestadOttawa Irish Rugby Club
Comments:
Guys, if we ger foreign visitors on here, please, let's ensure they are never received in a rude, unkind or discourteous manner.

First impressions always count and people say the silliest things without thinking.

It would mortify me to see a visitor being abused.

I know my plea is in vain, because with the people we have, it simply wouldn't happen.
 
This was my reply to Chris, the author of the article, and the Vice President Rugby Men.

Dear Chris,

I read your report of your visit to Loftus Versfeld and I was touched beyond words.

It brought a lump to my throat and a certain amount of discreet blinking of the eyelids!

I am so glad you enjoyed your visit and the famous BULL-ring played it's part.

I am not, contrary to initial impression no doubt, a Blue Bulls fan. Not at all!!! In fact, I hate them!!! However, I'm united in my desire to see a visitor, any visitor, especially a RUGBY visitor, to South Africa experience the PASSION, the VIBE, the earth moving INTENSITY of RUGBY - OUR sport, yours and mine!

I'm a Western Province fan and no doubt a little googling will express better than my words our mutual detestation for each other ;-)

No matter, the fact that we had a Canadian visitor, from such a proud rugby country, come and visit us and spend time with us is the epitome of the rugby culture worldwide.

Canadian rugby is played in the spirit the game was designed for - hard, uncompromising, give no quarter. Nothing epitomized that more than a dank, sallow Port Elizabeth evening during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa when the Canucks took on the Springboks and simply refused to backdown, either in play or in the dark arts! You gave as GOOD as you got and bless you guys for it!

Mano o mano! The spirit and strength of the tundra timber boys against the African Plains boys.

Sheesh, it was as good as it gets!

So, your report on your visit to Loftus feels special to me, and I've shared it. Indeed, I'm trying to ensure the Blue Bulls get a copy of it.

In the meantime, should you wish, and hopefully with your consent, I've shared it with a limited few friends on our little rugby blog.

Go well, Chris, and all the very best to the MIghty Canucks!!!

Regards Rasputin.

Visit us on:

http://ruggaworld.blogspot.com/
 
Well done, Ras. Thanks for the very interesting thread and for writing to the author.
This site is becoming a winner!
 
Thank you, Boertjie.

If only I could get everyone to share the passion I know you have.

It goes way beyond the mundane, you either feel it for Springbok rugby or you don't.

I'd do anything to benefit South African rugby. Plus, I honestly feel I have a few ideas that can benefit South African rugby, perhaps more importantly, I don't want anything FROM SA rugby, beyond a basic living.

I get very frustrated about all these people wanting to make money FROM SA rugby - a living is acceptable, fat from the lamb deserves to be unfricked and mocked in front of the nation.

I used to think Rian Oberholzer loved South African rugby, I no longer feel that way.

I'm starting to worry about a few other people as well.
 
Boertjie,

The hardest thing in life is to create a team.

Not many entities are given the leeway the South African Defence Force were given. Sheesh, under the threat of an 'opfok' ("fuck up"), you soon learn to be a team.

Kamp Staaldraad and all the modern advancements have since shown that it is simply not feasible to practise that kind of 'team building' anymore outside of a nation's 'Special Forces' like the SEALS or Recces or SAS.

So, in summary, if you come across 4, 5, 6 simialrly minded people, with relevant skills and IMAGINATION, you get a little excited. Any Team Leader would, anyone who has ever been in a successful team, of any nature, would recognise it.

Is there the energy, passion, committment, sacrifice, bonding and spirit to make it work?

One wonders.
 
Jip, Ras - cannot help to share your feelings. I think people doing things for the love of the game are more and more found only in the amateur sports like your club players and executives of netball, hockey etc.
And the muppets from this and other sites, of course :-)
Sad, but I suppose it's the signs of the times.
I'm thinking of compiling little exerts from the Boks' 1961 tour, as seen by Dirk Kamfer, who covered it for Huisgenoot.
I had the book, loaned it and recently managed to once more buy
it from a pavement seller.
This guy often had a poetic way of describing things.
Will see if it can contribute to this site.
 
Ras
Ja, I know a bit of the things you're referring to.

We all went beserk when we got to our traditional "40 Days" in the old army. But the night the train left for home, everyone was calm, collected, nostalgic and a little heartsore.

We still did 3 week camps then, and one the great pleasures was bumping into my greatest buddy and sharing a tent with him once more.

Many years later we had dinner together, and he reminded me that I was probably the only "troep" to ever arrest an officer and locking him up (for about 30 minutes) when on gate duty and he was an hour late for being back in camp :-)))

Had a koshuis reunion at Stellies after some 20 years. Impromptu some 10 or 12 of us got together, walked down to the old café for coffee and a snack.

It was only once we were seated that we noticed that all of us had been first years together. I suppose it is testimony of the cameraderie fostered on us during the "doop".

Bring on the red stuff!

Actually I have to switch off after a very long and busy day.
Lekker slaap!
 
Boertjie, it seems that nobody besides you and me cares.

So, we'll see how things go.

You get what you deserve in life.
 
Hoendervleis!!!

Dit is die gevoel wat ek kry as mense vanaf ander lande so praat! Ongelooflike storie. Well Done Ras. Great stuff this.
 
Great story Ras and great reply. It is brilliant to hear of what high level of respect the foreigners talk not only of our rugby, but also our country as a whole.

I was lucky enough to not have met the guys who were negative towards us.
 
Great work again Ras

Pity he did not stay for the final ;-) and that nobody offered him Windhoek Lager.

Share your sentiments about the need for socially responsible people to manage SARU- not just newbie talkers of the better life for all walk.

I reckon I am a bit of a Socialist my self- hey DavidS-given my place of work- but then it seems that the free market does provide the piledriving zip to move forward.

SARU is beset with politicians- not only the National Assembly one's- as is every club & Union.

How many of the posters on this site is involved in Rugby politics?

I am not- and the question should be - why not?
 
all of you raise some interesting points and in no way can it be faulted.

rasp,

inspiring as usual!
 
i notice he says the CC has engraved the names of all the winners since the 1800's. Except for 1976 though, poor Free State, bloody Sharks... Bunch of THUGS!!!  
Well done, Ras
Brilliant article, as always.
Great to hear what foreigners think of our rugby culture and how mad we as supporters can get.
 
lol wpw  
Fntastic testimonial to our rugby.

Rasp this is a clear indication of the high esteem for our rugby that people like Doc Craven literally created.

Apparently there is a similar awe inspired respect for our rugby set up in Argentina.

See, instead of these bellybutton contemplating self absorbed administration we have here today, we had proper leaders in those days who actually took their responsibilities to the game seriously. I mean, who can possibly argue with Doc's great words that "No man is bigger than the game"?

So I gotta ask. Why do our administrators steal the limelight from the game and try to media create themselves bigger than the game. Simple.

They're self serving morons who care more about their own high profiles and selfish interests than anything else.

The game needs servants, not self serving gits with a need to see themselves on television and in Die Beeld.

I agree though Rasputin, we should make every effort to make sure first time visitors, even ones from New Zealand, Australia and England are welcomed.
 
Sheesh, do we really have to be nice to Kiwis, David? ;-)  
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