CAPE TOWN – It’s Friday 10am at Canal Walk. Normally the mall would be fairly deserted at that time, but this wasn’t any Friday morning.
Not only was it school holidays, but a special rugby team were making a special appearance at the show court – the All Blacks were there, in the flesh!
Four players – Sonny Bill Williams (who is virtually a Capetonian by now), Ryan Crotty, Beauden Barrett and Wyatt Crockett – were met by what some reports say were close to a thousand people.
And they also camped outside the team hotel, the Vineyard in Newlands, for most of the week, hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
So, what’s this “Cape Crusaders” phenomenon all about? Why do some Capetonians support the All Blacks and not the Springboks?
Firstly, it’s important to emphasise the word “some”. The size of the New Zealand support base in the Mother City is exaggerated by that group, but also underplayed by Springbok diehards.
That is why it was rather juvenile by SA Rugby to not stage an All Black Test in Cape Town from 2008 until this past Saturday.
In that 2008 Test, won 19-0 by the Kiwis, there wouldn’t have been much more than 2 000 All Black fans present at Newands, if that.
Admittedly there was a more visible presence at Newlands at the weekend – probably double the 2008 figure – but it pales into insignificance when you realise that the other 44 000 spectators were screaming for the Springboks in the drama-filled 25-24 loss for the home side on Saturday.
But there are three main reasons why certain sections of people in the Cape – and many more in Port Elizabeth and surrounds – back the men in black.
The first is political. In the bad old days of apartheid, people of colour would support any team taking on the Boks, who were playing under the Danie Craven-led SA Rugby Board banner, as players from the non-racial SA Rugby Union under Ebrahim Patel weren’t allowed to play Test rugby.
That historical attachment has filtered down the generations, and is still prevalent today, but in addition, many of those fans continue to support New Zealand as they feel that there has not been enough progress with transformation in South African rugby.
While many opponents of transformation in sport scream “quota!” whenever a black player is selected or makes a mistake on the field, the reality is that there hasn’t been quick-enough development of black players, not enough playing opportunities are provided at Super Rugby and Springbok level, and in the bigger picture, many historically black communities haven’t seen investment in their areas, facilities and structures.
The second reason is purely sporting. The All Blacks are the undisputed kings of world rugby, and play a style that is the envy of every other team.
They are able to mix the sublime attacking skills of Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith and Sonny Bill Williams with the hard running of Rieko Ioane, Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder, and the hard graft of Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Liam Squire.
Compare that to the “traditional” Springbok style that relies on physical superiority and not much else in the modern era…
Although coach Allister Coetzee has spoken about getting his players to adopt a more attacking, “ball-in-hand” approach, there has been little evidence of that.
The All Blacks have won an incredible 70 matches out of 78 under current coach Steve Hansen, with just five defeats and three draws since 2012.
They won the 2015 World Cup, and claimed four Rugby Championship titles, while squaring the British and Irish Lions series 1-1 earlier this year.
And finally, it’s cool to support the All Blacks. That mainly applies to the millennials, many of whom would’ve been at Canal Walk on Friday and the team hotel during the week.
Imagine you could post a selfie with Sonny Bill Williams on your Instagram? That’s serious street cred…
So, Cape Springbok fans, don’t get too worked up the next time you see a neighbour, friend or work colleague flying the All Black flag, wearing the jersey or having had their face painted in the team colours.
They have their reasons…
* Ashfak Mohamed is the Digital Sports Editor of Independent Media.