Playing Pakistan is a tricky thing for South Africa. When Mark Boucher made his debut against Pakistan on October 17, 1997 at the Sheikhupura Stadium, he was given some friendly and forthright advice by the old man of the team. “Symmo looked at me and said, ‘Don’t cock it up’,” deadpanned Boucher.
It was typical Pat Symcox, who always had a word or two for the new boys in the team. The new boy didn’t cock it up. He didn’t get a chance. The weather cocked it up for everyone.
“My memories of that first Test are mostly about rain,” said Boucher. “We lost most of the Test to rain.” Only two days of play took place, although Boucher did get a chance to bat, scoring six while batting at nine. He only got to keep for 17 overs before the weather settled in and the last of only two Tests to be played at Sheikhupura Stadium fizzled out to a draw.
To be nominated for the sportsman or woman of the year at the 2013 South African Sports Awards, athletes need to fulfil the following criteria, according to the official rule book: “Produced a world-class performance at the National, Continental and Global arena (sic); continuously set world records; displayed reasonable code of conduct; and Conformed and complied with all applicable ethical codes.”
The athlete also has to have performed said world-class performance on the national, continental and global arenas between October 1, 2012 and August 30, 2013. Greg Minnaar won the downhill World Championships on September 1 this year, a day after the entries closed. Minnaar won the 2012 World Championship in September last year. He did not crack the nod as a 2012 nominee.
There was just one flag on the pier beside where the GoPro Ironman World Championships began in Kailua-Kona yesterday morning. It was a South African flag, placed there by a stranger in the night, a family member, friend or team manager of one of the South Africans who took part in this, the triathlon of all triathlons.
It lasted for much of the morning after the male professionals began at 6.30am and through the age group starts thereafter, but it was gone by the time James Cunnama crossed the line to take fourth, a result he called the “greatest of his career”. It was the greatest of days for South Africans at the Ironman World Championships, with Kyle Buckingham the first amateur home in 16th place overall.
Kona, Hawaii is exactly half-a-day behind South Africa, which is about the same time it will take some of the competitors to complete the Ironman World Championship when it takes place tomorrow.
Some may take longer, some a lot less, but tomorrow they will have to finish a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle race and a 42.2km run to be able to become one of those who have completed perhaps the toughest one-day endurance test of them all.
Just after Bryan Habana had scored his second try of perhaps the greatest Test match this century, the cameras swung to the crowd for reaction shots and settled upon two ladies jumping up and down in celebration. The one with the Springbok jersey had both arms in the air; the other with the black T-shirt had both hands holding on to her breasts, presumably because, like the Springboks were to show later in the match, she, too, had forgotten that while being loose and free is wonderfully liberating, sometimes you need a little support at the back to ensure that the bounce goes in your favour.
The ball did bounce in Habana’s favour on Saturday before his hamstring went ping and he had to exit a stage he had graced with the same speed, power and skill he had first shown at Ellis Park in the Vodacom Cup almost a decade ago. His departure was another “what if” moment, of which there have been a few in the Castle Rugby Championship matches between these two this season. We’ll never know what role he might have played as the match rolled on. This game deserved for a player as classy Habana to play until the final whistle. The world’s best team against their old foes – it was a magnificent match, the likes of which we can only hope to see again when next these two meet in the run up to the 2015 World Cup.
It had everything. Nigel Owens, who refereed the Springboks in the fractious 2011 World Cup match against Samoa in Auckland, had just about as perfect a game as you could wish for from a referee. He ran himself into the ground, cramping late in the match, a result of running an estimated 8km during the match. Owens was buzzing ahead of the game: “Next week I will be refereeing the biggest game of my life so far. South Africa v New Zealand in The Rugby Championship decider @ Ellis Park” he tweeted on Monday. Neil Jenkins, the former Wales flyhalf, sent him a message of support, and, perhaps remembering Owens is gay, made sure he explained himself fully: “best of luck Nige, we'll be rooting for you #nopunintended #sand”.
When he pinned the Beast for the sin of daring to clean out Richie McCaw at a ruck, Owens told him, “You don’t have to call me Mr Ref,” to the ever-polite Bok prop. Afterwards, Owens summed up the match thus: “That was the greatest game of rugby I have ever had the privilege to referee. Huge credit to both teams for showing what rugby is all about.”
There has been much talk about Jean de Villiers and how long he has left as a Springbok. It has been a long and hard road for him as a Bok, from the injury he suffered in his first match in 2002 against France. Then he banged up his shoulder before the 2003 World Cup, then ruptured his biceps in the 2007 World Cup. He said before the 2011 World Cup that while he received a winner’s medal, he never felt truly like he had been a part of the victory. On yesterday’s showing he has some distance left to run as a Springbok and should captain them in 2015 in England. He radiates calm, exudes class and manages referees with respect, dignity and not a little bit of forcefulness. On Saturday when the All Blacks had messed up their team sheet and had written Keven Mealamu down as a replacement instead of Dane Coles. As Owens, an assistant referee and the managers wondered what to do about it, De Villiers walked over and said, “It doesn’t matter. It is what it is.” He received praise from Steve Hansen, the All Black coach, for that. That’s the way of De Villiers, though. His sense of sportsmanship is never lost in the heat of the battle.
And then, finally, there are the All Blacks. They are the best team in the world right now, with the ability to remain patient when the match seems to have run its course and Habana is running away from them. They hold on to their basics, stick to their processes and believe in the game plan. They kick a lot more than they used to, but they do it with a purpose and accuracy. The Springboks let themselves down in that aspect. Some of their tackling was rush-of-blood stuff, which opened holes for the All Blacks to pierce. But it was that sort of match, rushes of blood, passion, skill, luck, aggression and, for Habana and the lady in the stands, the bounce going your way now and then.
*Join David O’Sullivan and I in riding the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge with Daryl Impey, the first South African to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on November 17. Also joining us will be Geraint Thomas, an Olympic and world champion on the track, who helped Parkhurst resident Chris Froome win the Tour de France this year as a member of Team Sky. To join the Impey Peloton will cost R2000 as well as you entry fee to the race. Every cent of the R2000 raised will go to the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children. Email email@example.com for more information.