The Zombie apocalypse finally comes for Irish

SPRINGBOK coach Rassie Erasmus, centre, celebrates after wing Cheslin Kolbe, unseen, scored the team’s second try at Loftus Versfeld yesterday. | AFP

SPRINGBOK coach Rassie Erasmus, centre, celebrates after wing Cheslin Kolbe, unseen, scored the team’s second try at Loftus Versfeld yesterday. | AFP

Published Jul 7, 2024


You can well imagine two Frenchmen standing in a committee room, a baroque-painted ceiling vaulted above them, their fingers stained yellow from nicotine, one-shot espresso on their breaths, debating whether Zombie should be added to the stadium tracks at the Rugby World Cup.

“What does it mean,” one asks the other, in his Franco-Parisian accent.

“I do not know,” the other shrugs, but let’s play it anyway, biting down on the hardened shell of a baguette.

I recall some years ago, sitting in some indie rock bar dungeon in Malaysia in Sabah, a Filipino cover band on stage. A fan hung precariously over the drummer’s head, his jet black hair fluttering wildly as he smashed down on the high hat, double-clutching the bass drum, the vocalist – it didn't matter which bar in Malaysia you found yourself, they were always lead by women – crooning, shrieking through the chorus, Zombie, Zombie, Zombie-eh-eh-oh-oh-oh.

Zombie, you see, was almost akin to a second national anthem in Malaysia, just like hockey is the national sport of India, but everyone really only watches cricket.

It is strange, this new love for Zombie, when considering its lyrics.

Sitting at Stade de France in Saint Denis when Ireland beat the Springboks 13-8 in the group stages of the Rugby World Cup last year, the supporters from the Emerald Isle’s rendition of the song hung thick in the air. If you were a South African supporter inside that cauldron, it was rather beautiful and irksome all at once, and only the latter because it was coupled with an irritating loss.

The political edge of the track has seemingly been forgotten all around the world, while the Irish have embraced it and proudly attached it to their nation building and rugby culture, since the late 2010s.

All about The Troubles, if you are so inclined, you should give it a more thoughtful listen.

South Africans, from Cape Town to Polokwane and everything betwixt and beyond, have co-opted the song, adding their own spin on it, chanting Rassie, Rassie, Rassie, to stick it to the Irish and remind all and sundry that if the Boks coach isn’t occupying that space already, he should already be in your head.

The stadium announcer tried to push the song onto the crowd on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld before the match, but there really was no need. It sprung organically from the partisan stands when Erasmus hoicked off his starting front-row, both locks and captain Siya Kolisi in the 49th minute, replacing them with all six of replacement in Gerhard Steenekamp, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, RG Snyman and Marco van Staden.

Clearly Erasmus wanted to see some change as the Boks found themselves on the same score that denied them in Paris, but inverse this time, and with 30 minutes to sweep towards the result. The Boks haven’t beaten Ireland since 2017 – it is the only team Erasmus hasn’t beaten as Bok coach.

The Boks, however, seemed to be in their own heads during the match – especially the second half – battling with what they had been, what they wanted to be and where they are heading as world champions. Luckily, for them, James Lowe also seemed to lose himself in his own thoughts, perhaps thinking of Rassie.

The Irish winger mixed the sublime with some truly baffling play, and his errors led directly to the Boks taking the game away from his team. In a game of fine margins, two massive mistakes will cost you big time.

To cap off the 27-20 victory, the crowd serenaded the Irish with one final Rassie recitation, the Zombie now surely off of the Boks’ back.