The lamentations of bitter rugby nostalgics


The lamentations of bitter rugby nostalgics

We are living in a crazy country sitting on top of centuries of crazy history, and we expect a few young men to make us feel better by playing a game brilliantly, writes LOUIS DE VILLIERS.


THE other day I saw a photo of the Springbok World Cup team of 2003 somewhere on a recommended Facebook page — apparently I'm still too weird for most algorithms.

A whole host of embittered apartheid nostalgics let rip with insights such as, “Yes! The days when Boks were still Boks!" Or, “Oh, man, those were the days." But of course the comments were poorly spelt and punctuated.

It was in 2003 that South Africa sent its worst rugby team to date to a World Cup. It was a mere 20 years ago and, golly, already a swarm of young upstarts remember that those were good times for the Springboks.

The days when the Boks were still called Derick and Jorrie and Hendro and Jaco, rather than Damian or Cheslin or Siya or Retshegofaditswe. And, unlike the latter, mostly lost.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Siya lamentations                              

I'm probably preaching to the converted here, so I will shorten the lament to: Dear Father, is there anything or anyone on earth apart from far too many white South Africans who still think Siya Kolisi is a poor player?

The only way anyone can come to that conclusion is because of racism, a complete lack of rugby insight or, as per usual, the South African cocktail of both.

I'm snobbish about almost nothing, but I pooh-pooh the average insight on the average Test Saturday in the average South African bar with a TV.  

But ironically, it's thanks to these backward blighters that I can still become so passionate about a Springbok campaign in my old age. If the Boks win once again against all expectations, it is an unheard of four out of eight and many of us feel a little better for a day or two.

And the worst, most reactionary elements in our ranks feel slightly worse for about a week or two. And keep quiet for a month or two as a further bonus.

The only problem is, anything other than a tournament victory will make those bastards feel better at our expense once again.

We live in a crazy country sitting on top of centuries of crazy history, and we expect a bunch of young men to make it feel better by playing a game brilliantly.

Wayne Barnes and the trots

Jeez, sorry, I think it was the Carte Blanche theme music that made me feel so melancholic.

The truth is that yours truly is bursting at the seams with excitement.

The very same 2003, “tu boke nog bOke was", was honestly the only time South Africa were totally uncompetitive at a World Cup tournament. In 2011 they also went home in the quarter-finals, but that was due to the Bryce Lawrence factor.

But swings and roundabouts: in 2007, the All Blacks were targeted by Wayne Barnes; and in South Africa in 1995, a nasty round of the Sandton trots ended their campaign. Our punishment for this was Invictus.

The Australasians obviously had our number when we first joined the game. In the so-called Good Old Days, players struggled with defence, but John Kirwan (1987) will do in any era:

David Campese's haphazard approach to defence or physical danger (1991) probably also counts against him, but at the time that was still optional if you could start things like this:

Canan’s virtues

It was Manchester United's legendary former manager Alex Ferguson who reckoned attack wins games and defence wins titles.

It's definitely more of an issue in league competitions than in knockout matches, but the Springbok defence already looks great at this stage, with the young Canan Moodie adding incredible flyer defence to his other virtues.

What joy we can expect from his career — and it's unimaginable that he is only 20 years old:

Cards against the chest

Yes, yes, to ululate too much about Moodie's performances in the recent Test matches would be silly; the last few internationals have all been trials and one can't derive too much from them. 

Sunday's Test between France and Australia could perhaps be illuminating, although no-one wants to show all their cards at this stage.

Neither the hosts nor Eddie Jones's team has been playing red-hot rugby recently; Les Bleus have been pretty poor until now and also have to do without the services of a key player, the flyhalf Romain Ntamack.

Bitter Eddie

Until now, the focus on the World Cup  has largely been on groups A and B, because three of the five top teams on earth will not be able to progress past the quarter-finals.

But England are so weak that we don't even laugh at them any more; Argentina in Group D could very well be a fly in their ointment, while even Japan — despite a rather dismal season — will also take heart from what is happening with rugby in Pommere post-Jones.

The selfsame Jones has started early with his gaga displays this time. There is little joy to be detected in this disillusioned Crocodile Dundee impersonation; old Edward is treading water:

If he's so bitter even before the tournament has started, Missus Jones is probably going to have her hands full when the old rascal returns home from France one day. Wales are in their group, as are Fiji and Georgia, who might just pull one off against a rather dilapidated Wallabies team.

A buzz about Libbok

But what everyone is buzzing about is Manie Libbok's goalkicking. And I would obviously be lying if I claim that it pleases me.

But two seasons of the United Rugby Championship reassure me that he — mostly — kicks well and his ingenuity and vision on the advantage line make things possible that all the old men complain the Boks haven't done for a long time.

It can certainly improve a lot, but there will be complaints about something anyway, and Kolisi and Jesse Kriel were simply too good for that last weekend.

The archenemy, Japan and ourselves

In honour of tonight's opponents, the highly respected old archenemy, a little groove from Wellington, “the coolest little capital in the world":

And one for Japan, who play Italy tomorrow and have had a pretty frustrating year so far:

And a little one for ourselves, because most of us are actually very pleasant and deserve a little bit of joy. We are such tough people, at least we always stand a chance:

♦ VWB ♦

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