Despite their loss against Japan last week, you can still support the Springboks on the big screen at the V&A Waterfront Amphitheatre, writes Dawn Kennedy.
AN hour before the match at the V&A Waterfront’s Absa Boktown and the vibe is awesome. I’d been sceptical about watching rugby at the Waterfront: shopping and rugby just don’t mix, but the ca-ching of the cash registers is drowned out by the sounds of Bok supports in the packed amphitheatre clapping along to the supporting act.
The weather was putting on her best show. It was ice-cream melting warm, with a light insouciant breeze, the kind of weather that makes me think of champagne cruises. It was as though the weather Gods had conspired as Brighton, often wet and bleak at this time of year, was as bright and sunshiny as Cape Town. Looking around at the diverse age and colour of people at Boktown you’d be hard pressed not to think that South Africa is a social utopia. Even the homeless person dancing with abandon on the steps seems somehow perfect.
In retrospect the weather was an omen. It was the wrong weather for rugby entirely.
Brought up in Ireland, Saturdays were spent on the sidelines of a rugby pitch worrying if my frozen fingers might fall every time I clapped. Being a rugby supporter required a certain mental toughness, stoicism in the face of discomfort and a resilience to rain-soaked socks and lips cracked from the cold. Boktown, by comparison, was like watching rugby in a spa. The only thing missing was roaming masseurs to rub supporters’ tense shoulders. But, in truth, there wasn’t much tension among Bok supporters. We were taking bets not on whether we would win, but by how much.
Barry de Vet, looking damnably handsome, took to the stage and, predicted a 50 point win by the Boks. Chatting to him afterwards, he told me that he still gets Goosebumps and a “knop in de keel” or a lump in the throat when he watches the game.
My neighbour John Hill, a high school teacher from Worcester, is watching the game with his son Keanne. It’s one of those special bonding times that you know will be remembered for years to come.
We all stand to sing the national anthem; it’s the usual shambolic affair with people lip syncing the sections in unfamiliar languages. There is a definite increase in volume when it comes to the Afrikaans segment. Really, they should make it obligatory for anyone to be able to sing the national anthem, from start to finish, before matriculating so that the singing of it is not such a public embarrassment.
I get my own “knop in keel” when Jean de Villiers, the second most-capped Springbok captain, runs out.
Barry’s 50-zero prediction is ambitious, cocky even, but beating Japan should be a stroll in the park for the Boks. After all, the Japanese have won only one game in the World Cup as opposed to the Boks who have the World Cup’s best record, having won 25 matches and lost only 4. And honestly, are the Japanese, in terms of height and bulk any match for the Boks?
However, from the moment the game starts, I’m forced to eat, with chopsticks, my preconception that the Japanese are better suited to ping pong and archery. The Japanese immediately give the Boks a good run for their money and earn the crowds respect, taking an early three point lead with a penalty kick.
The Brave Blossoms are aptly named. They are fast, strategic and a pleasure to watch. The Boks look like Gulliver playing rugby in the land of the Lilliputians and the Japanese seem to almost run between the South African’s legs.
Watching rugby on the Waterfront’s big screen is great. Much better than trying to peek above the broad shoulders of burly men in a pub. And there’s no-one spilling beer on your lap. I’ve just got two minor gripes. Sunshine is great but not when it’s shining on the screen. Also, I will never buy a Land Rover. Nope, not even if someone just gives me the keys. Having the action on the screen shrunk to accommodate the frequent Land Rover adverts is beyond annoying.
The sun sets and the evening chill sets in during the second half. Briefly the Boks up the ante and take a 12-10 lead. The mood in the amphitheatre turns from ebullient, to despondent, to desperate as the unthinkable takes place before our disbelieving eyes.
Finally, the whistle blows for a 32-34 defeat for South Africa. Looking for someone to blame, the crowd, almost as one, turns against coach Heyneke Meyer, unpopular for his conservative, old boys’ network-style selection. This humiliating trouncing could just be the turning point for the radical transformation that many believe South African rugby needs.
This was a true David and Goliath story played out on a rugby pitch and watched with wild disbelief by the crowd in Boktown. As mythology unfolded, I couldn’t help but admire the Japanese who showed strength, strategy and unwavering valour. The experience that Meyer placed his faith in didn’t trump. Frankly the Boks looked stupid, shambling and old.
While Eddie Jones is the toast of the world, it’s just possible that Meyer, who following the humiliation made a rather cringe-worthy public apology to local rugby fans, is the most reviled man in South Africa. If Meyer were Japanese he'd be flinging himself on a sword and committing hara-kiri. What is certain is that the Boks have slipped from their pedestal and nothing will ever be the same in South Africa’s rugby history again.
My hours spent at Boktown were epic and damned exciting. I’m glad to have witnessed the worst moment in South Africa’s rugby history. South Africa is a country of dramatic extremes and maybe the Boks can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, give their best, and beat the formidable Samoans.
My only wish is that I could book a seat at Boktown to watch South Africa play Samoa next Saturday.
l Absa Boktown is at the V&A Amphitheatre. Free, 021 426 1233.