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The good times never felt so good as Boks welcome fans back to Loftus in dramatic fashion

Published Jul 2, 2022

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Pretoria — The precinct around Loftus and Saturday was pumping, heaving with anticipation as the Springboks finally returned to a packed stadium within South Africa after Covid-19.

It has been a testing period for South Africa, so to witness such a press of humanity banded together in a singular purpose to watch the Boks on their home turf, was glorious to behold.

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Loftus Park, the mall adjacent to the stadium was a hubbub of emotions, beer flowing freely, bedecked in green and gold. Here and there, a cluster of Wales fans could be spotted, welcomed with a wry smile, a competitive glare, and a friendly no fog acknowledgment. Business boomed, not only in the retail park; but also the business of talking rugby and consuming the plentiful brewskies on tap.

In the background, the anthem of sporting stadiums around the word, Sweet Caroline, carried the air as performed by a cover band. Admittedly, after lockdown, the good times never felt so good …

Leon Schuster’s iconic, perhaps infamous, rugby anthems weren’t far behind, and walking through the throng, you could feel the gees. It was immediately apparent that South Africa needed this Test, needed the social outing, the comradery of cheering on their national heroes.

As kickoff approached, the flood of green made its way dutifully towards the stands, anticipation seeping out of their bones, hope carried in their hearts that it would be a good start for the Boks. That would not be the case, as they soon would learn, the Welsh fighting to a commanding 18-3 lead; but for now excitement hung thick around Loftus.

The stadium itself was alive, the inner carcass that had stood so hallow only a year ago in the British and Irish Lions tour, now breathing, inhaling, and exhaling anticipation. What was a bare carcass exposed with its ribs cracked open in 2021, now moved with the peculiar ebb and flow that only humanity can bring to a place that was once void of consciousness.

The rendition of the National Anthem that followed rendered gooseflesh, breathing down the necks of the capacity stadium. It followed the usual beats, to be sure, the first half conceded, while the second enjoyed a boisterous revival. A minor quibble that Siya Kolisi and Co will surely help changed for future generations.

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Collectively, they were ready for some Test match rugby.

The start was not what the build-up promised, however, as the Boks huffed and puffed their way through the first half. The Welsh looked sharper, clearer in their intent and purpose. They opened the scoring, scored the second try soon after; and enjoyed the rub of the green.

What was once a churning atmosphere ready to explode, was tempered by the reality that the Boks were rusty and undercooked. An uncomfortable silence permeated through the stadium as the first 40 came to a close.

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The Boks were in trouble at the start of the second half, and an almighty effort was required to overturn a first defeat to Wales at home that was surely staring them in their faces. They did so through a relentless, if not perfectly weighted onslaught. And in doing so, awoken the beast of Loftus.

A clutch kick by Damian Willemse secured the 32-29 victory, a tremor of relief rippling from down on the pitch into the upper most tiers of Loftus. Elation overtook that relief, and joy returned where nerves and anxiety once held sway.

Was it perfect from the Boks.

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Far from it – poor in many respects actually; but victory will dull those concerns for now and South Africa will recall the joys in return to international rugby to one of its most hallowed grounds after the pandemic, and the continued struggles within the nation.

@FreemanZAR

IOL Sport

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