’Ja, nee’, it was another second Test battle
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FORTY-SEVEN years ago almost to the day, the British & Irish Lions defeated the Springboks 28-9 at Loftus Versfeld in what was the heaviest defeat in the history of the green and gold.
Over 70 000 South Africans were crammed into a previously impregnable Bok citadel and in silent disbelief they witnessed the tourists score five tries to nil thanks to the wizardry of Phil Bennett, Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams, to mention a few of that team of invincibles.
That Lions team razzled and dazzled across South Africa, winning 21 of 22 matches including three consecutive Test matches before the Boks scrambled a draw the fourth.
I was reminded of that Loftus match, the second Test of that 1974 series, because I have been reading the most brilliant book on exactly that game.
It is called Ja-Nee, written by Dugald Macdonald, who happened to be at No 8 for the Springboks that day in the solitary appearance he made for the Boks, and he uses that match as the premise to discuss — in often hilarious fashion — the culture and history of SA rugby.
I will review this book in full in due course, but for now take note of it because it is an absolute gem. Anyway this past weekend, I wondered if Macdonald, still a resident in his native Cape Town, afforded himself a wry smile when the current Boks came within a single point of avenging that infamous Loftus scoreline when they beat the Lions 27-9, also in the second Test of a series, but this time in Macdonald’s home town.
Of course, rugby has changed dramatically in the almost 50 years since the Boks were humiliated. One wonders what the likes of Bennett, Edwards and Williams would have thought back in Wales watching Saturday’s bruising battle.
Lions flyhalf, Dan Biggar, passed the ball down his backline exactly three times in a match that was almost two hours long. Most of the time, Biggar simply hoisted the ball into the heavens, as did his half-back partner Conor Murray, with the aim being to force a Bok mistake.
The Bok half-backs did exactly the same. The exchange of artillery fire was more reminiscent of the Battle of the Somme in the trenches of World War I than anything the 1974 Lions displayed in such cavalier fashion.
I loved the turn of phrase used by English writer Robert Kitson to describe Saturday’s Test when he said: “For long periods this was effectively trench warfare in sponsored kit.” Writing in the Guardian he added: “attacking moments were as rare as occupied seats.”
Dead right! But the thing is... Saturday’s Test match was nevertheless utterly compelling. Sometimes a titanic arm wrestle is just as entertaining as a try-fest ... especially if you win, of course.