The Latin Quarter in Paris is a labyrinth full of narrow streets but there was big talk being discussed there before the Springboks Rugby World Cup clash against Ireland.
It could scarcely be contained as South Africans and Irish mingled throughout the city, discussing the major talking points of the encounter. The fan park across the way at the Place de la Concorde, exclaimed by the Luxor Obelisk, buzzed with excitement as rugby supporters from all nations congregated there to watch the day’s Tests.
Thank you 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/SbVIfptVVP— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) September 23, 2023
There is a noticeable narrative in the French capital, one of unity and common understanding. Wherever a South African can be spied – and it is quite perceptible to identify our fellow countrymen through the way they move, their gait, mannerisms, and languages – a warm embrace follows.
Regardless of creed, race, gender or politics, the divisive politics that seem to always grip our nation is a far off reality here. In Rosie’s, an American-style BBQ – a group of friends from Botswana sit enjoying the festivities. They have travelled from Gaborone to come watch the Boks defend their Webb Ellis Cup.
Down the street South Africans grip each other happily, arguing about what to expect from Siya Kolisi and his men. They opine that Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber are mad geniuses and when it comes to expressing power no other team can dare to challenge SA.
They rue the possible departure of France captain Antoine Dupont, who suffered a facial fracture against Namibia on Thursday night; and then with a cheeky smile suggest that perhaps it would be better if the Boks now face the hosts in the quarter-finals, rather than New Zealand or Italy.
France, you see, is nothing, without the brilliant No 9, they muse.
The Irish also fancy their chances, believing that the Emerald Isle is justifiably the best rugby team in the world right now, and if they should reach the final, they will win the tournament.
The growing injury crisis in the French ranks has also excited them. They too believe that the possible loss of Dupont could spell the end of their challenge.
Just down the road at Bull’s Party, which proudly promises a DJ party and beer pong if you enter their door, South Africans seized the sound system. Kaptein blares out onto the compact street, followed by Mandoza, Fokofpolisiekar and then AmaBokoBoko. Shosholoza reaches full voice.
It does not take long before the National Anthem plays with full-hearted vigour. A friendly retort follows, La Marseillaise reaching its crescendo with pride, while notes of Call of Ireland can also be heard diffused throughout.
The keynote to take away here is one of harmony.
It is still an inescapable truth that the majority of South Africans able to afford travelling to France are white, but the identity shared between all of us truly drives the notion that the greatest unifying force is sport as personified by the Boks.
The truth is, at least here for one night, is one of common cause and fraternity. Regardless of how far the Boks go in their defence, that will be my abiding memory of this experience.
Morgan Bolton is at the Rugby World Cup courtesy of Castle Lager