On Friday afternoon, during a lunch at the Pirates sports club in Greenside, Johannesburg, Stefan Terblanche told a story about Kamp Staaldraad, the veld school that was meant to unite a dysfunctional Bok team.
They were given rugby balls and instructed to stand in a dam. They were given numbers instead of names and told to memorise the numbers of their teammates.
Terblanche’s number was, if memory serves correctly, 45. The management and security nutters running the camp began cooking wors rolls in front of them. But the braais sparked the dry, winter brush and soon there was a large fire. The Boks were told to get out of the dam to help put it out.
They all did so. All except one. Ashwin Willemse was hungry. The wors was still on the fire. After they had extinguished the blaze, said Terblanche, they were told to stand in lines. “There was Ash,” said Terblanche, “boerewors fat running down his cheeks. He said, Sorry I didn’t get for all of you, guys. There wasn’t time'.”
On Saturday evening, after the madness at the stadium occasionally known as Ellis Park had subsided, Willemse had been chewing the fat for a while in the SuperSport studio and decided he had had enough.
Nick Mallett had bagged the Boks. So, too, had Naas Botha. There were very few people in South Africa who hadn’t. They had been booed at half-time by Ellis Park.
They had looked as dysfunctional as the 2003 World Cup team, a mess of nerves, the scrum was flawed and the backline played in a rushed panic.
Lwazi Mvovo was bombed out of the game with high ball after high ball. Willie le Roux remained an enigma, unable to kick, a discoverer of unseen blind alleys and then, when you least expect it, a sleight-of-hand magician. Duane Vermeulen should have left the field with an injury earlier than he did.
The Boks were bounced by a disciplined Ireland, who played with the structure South Africa should have had.
Then it turned around. Allister Coetzee made the ‘Lions almal Bokke’, as the saying goes. The form players of the Lions, the unheralded stars shaped under Johan Ackermann, showed their teammates the path to redemption.
After the analysis had turned back to the bad, Willemse stuck his hand up and went on a mini rant. No one in the SuperSport studio could get a word in. “We need to support the Boks... We can’t slag them off so much. They deserve more from ‘us’. The use of ‘we’ is a journalistic no-no, but is a little less observed in broadcasting. Mallett looked suitably cowed by Willemse. He agreed the Boks needed support, but ...
And it is the but ... that must be remembered. Saturday was one of the great Springbok escapes, a turnaround to remember and inspire.
On social media, the battlelines were drawn but there were few engagements. If you dared criticise the Boks you were against Coetzee and transformation. One journalist tweeter begged South Africa to heap praise on Coetzee, to congratulate him on his first victory. A win is a win. Except, well, that it isn’t.
The perfect game is a dream in sport, but as much as the Boks are praised for the second half, so will Coetzee remember the first, when the Boks dripped and leaked, like wors fat down a cheek.
Russian has her chips
Yelena Isinbayeva is in a frump. She is in a fury. The Russian pole vaulter has said she will sue the IAAF as their ban of Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics for multiple and sustained doping violations is a ‘breach of human rights’.
Isinbayeva is a great believer in human rights. Unless you are gay.
Three years ago, at the World Championships, she had a go at Swedish high-jumper, Emma Green-Tregaro, who had protested Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws.
“We consider ourselves like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, women with boys,” said the two-time Olympic champion in English.
“It’s disrespectful to our country. It’s disrespectful to our citizens, because we are Russians. It comes from history. We never had these problems in Russia, and we don’t want to have any in the future.”
Isinbayeva later tried to retract the statement, blaming her bad English. That sounds familiar. She has certainly learnt how to say, ‘breach of human rights’.
Dream second half but Coetzee won't forget the first