Cape Town – In all sport, the winner goes to dinner and the loser skulks off into the night. But sometimes, just sometimes, the result is less important than the sport itself. Sometimes it matters not so much who won the game, but how the game was played.
A Test match between the Springboks and the All Blacks does not need any artificial build-up. It is the real hoopla of rugby. And yet the various log permuations spiced up the intrigue to yet another level last week. But what I will remember about Saturday’s Test at Ellis Park is not that the All Blacks won 38-27, or that they took home yet another title. What I will remember and cherish was that it was a glorious, tingling celebration of the game we love. A powerful reminder of the joy of sport.
It was a Test match that had something for everybody. Powerful scrumming and accurate lineout play, brutal hits, raking touchfinders, towering up-and-unders, bewildering changes of direction, beautiful running and passing, sweetly-struck goalkicks. Even a swinging arm or two for the ruffians among us.
Best of all, the Springboks had as much to do with making it a day for the honours board as the brilliant All Blacks did. Yes, the Boks missed way too many tackles for a Test match, and misjudged the kickoffs horribly. Yes, they turned over possession at crucial times. Yes, Zane Kirchner and Fourie du Preez made a couple of blunders. Yes, Heyneke Meyer’s decision to yank the mighty Bismarck off the field with Richie’s men all at sea five metres from their line was puzzling.
But the Boks pushed the All Blacks to the limit, and what I loved is they did that by taking the game to them, not sitting back and feeding off mistakes or trying to grind out another soulless methodical victory. The Boks have tried that route way too many times over the past 15 years, and you tell me, how many victories over the All Blacks did it bring them?
I will just pick a few Bok highlights. You may have your own. Eben Etzebeth rampaging like a man on acid down the touchline. Flo Louw’s delicious offload to Bryan Habana. Duane Vermeulen arching his back and storming through a gap in the build-up to the first try. Jean de Villiers drifting, swerving, ghosting past tackles. Bismarck brave and strong in broken play, ball in one hand, handing off black jerseys with the other. Fourie du Preez’s bullet pass to Willie le Roux for his try. Boom-boom-boom-boom. That’s the sound of my happy heart.
It’s never nice losing. You play sport to win. But let’s dial the cliché and say the game of rugby won at Ellis Park. On Saturday night, this Kaapenaar, this South African, was proud of Jean and his impi.
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* Ian Smit is the sports editor of the Cape Times and a former rugby writer of the paper.