JOHANNESBURG - Watch out spoilers ahead. This weekend could prove to be a blockbuster or an expensive flop for South African sport - well, for at least two of its most popular codes.
On Friday and Saturday, Bafana Bafana and the Springboks begin their own Shawshank Redemption stories. I refer to that movie, not because it is a masterpiece of modern cinema, but because, at least superficially, the two teams’ recent history follows a similar narrative.
Both are good guys, incarcerated by their own devices, trying to survive, rediscovering their purpose and who must now crawl through the muck to find their own worth and a smidgen of redemption to stand on the shores of success and look to the horizon for new life and greater challenges.
In a way, they are also kind of like Rocky Balboa - underdogs that need to show the world they can take a knock to the jaw, go the distance and claim victory, both the moral and the real.
As that character explains: “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
Perhaps Bafana have the more difficult weekend - their very own Miracle on Ice-esque battle - when they face Senegal in a must win World Cup 2018 qualifier.
It is true that collectively, South Africa’s hearts sunk into the soles of our shoes when it was revealed that the Ghanaian referee, Joseph Lamptey, had dipped his hand into some match-fixing when the two sides met in their first original encounter last November. Then, we had won 2-1 and Russia was already a step closer. Now, we are on the precipice of elimination, fighting to stay Alive.
We haven’t started to cannibalise ourselves yet, but climbing down the mountain to salvation and Russia is a long road yet. But I digress. Lamptey’s deceit was the kind of twist in the tale that had many pundits flabbergasted, so much so that Keyzer Soze of the Usual Suspects would have been proud.
Bafana must forget their difficult week in camp, the betrayal of Thulani Serero and previous failings when they suffered from a lack of big match temperament on Friday night.
Their recent victory over Burkina Faso has shown they can take such momentous moments in their stride and the Lions of Teranga are definitely there for the taking. By all accounts they laboured through these qualifiers, winning, but never looking comfortable doing so.
Bafana must work as a unit, every known ego must be set aside and they must push ahead as one. And when they have done so successfully, they must reset, return to the drawing board, rework their script and pump out an equally successful sequel.
Their encounter is a two-parter after all and only success will make the follow up on Tuesday worth watching. After years of false dawns, they can write themselves into legend, worthy of a movie.
Failure could see Stuart Baxter on the ropes, bobbing and weaving to stay on as senior national coach, hoping a body blow doesn’t make contact.
Meanwhile, the Boks have the lesser pressure of the two, but their motivation will be similar. Their opponents, Ireland, gave them an almighty scare last year when they visited these shores. In those three Test, the Springboks were lucky to come away with a 2-1 series win. The last time they met at the Aviva Stadium, in 2014, the Boks were outclassed 29-16.
The big number that will concern Allister Coetzee, no matter his pragmatic stance, is four - the number of games the South Africans have gone without winning a game, or is it 43 - his win percentage after 21 games in charge. The coach desperately needs victory - not a moral one as was the case in their recent 24-25 defeat to New Zealand, but a tangible win - to silence the cacophony of criticism levelled his way as they build towards their own World Cup.
Likewise, a defeat to Ireland won’t unhinge Coetzee from the hotseat - only total disaster on this outbound tour could, maybe. I guess he and Baxter could be recast in Twins, although I wonder who would take up the role previously filled by Arnold Schwarzenegger...
Both teams, however, need to put in award winning performances but ultimately on Friday and Saturday, it will be up to Bafana and the Boks to write their own narratives.