1. Your first rugby memory?
Watching the 1981 Springbok tour to New Zealand with my father. Nothing I have done since then has felt as important, as thrilling, as adult as waking at 4am in the dark and huddling side by side in front of the old Sony Trinitron TV set. We were the only people awake in all the world, just us, him and me. He died a few months later.
2. Were you ever a good player?
I was a terrible player. I was a flyhalf, and when I had ball in hand, the only things slower than my brain were my feet. Watching me play must have been like watching a rock trying to fall up a hill, or a barnacle trying to ballroom dance. I’m a much better player now. I am calm and composed, I see the space and read the game far better. This is because I am now wiser and more experienced, and also because I am sitting on the couch.
3. Your favourite player? Why?
Matt Damon in Invictus. He was small for a world-class forward, and he was probably our first captain who didn’t speak a word of Afrikaans, but that didn’t stop him lifting the World Cup.
4. And when you were little?
When I was 10 years old there was a kid in my primary school called Pieter Senekal who was the best player I have ever seen. He was like a muscular ghost — you couldn’t lay a hand on him. I was so star-struck, it was like having a crush on a girl. He was two years older than me and never noticed me, but he was the first time I realised that some people are born with greater gifts than others. Nothing ever became of him — he never grew big enough, and I doubt he had much personal discipline or the character to overcome his flaws. I happened to pass him in the street a few years ago — he’d been 12 when last I’d seen him, but I recognised him straight away. My heart still fluttered as I watched him cross the road and go into the bottle store.
5. What do you like best about Springbok rugby today?
That we aren’t just strong and intense and passionate and desperate and all those things we’ve had to rely on in the past: we’re also smart and flexible; we’re thoughtful and innovative; we have a sense of humour; we have a genuine culture of respect for each other. Above all, we’re competent. That means a lot to me — the Springboks are one of the last South African institutions that we can look at and think, “Yes, whether they’re right or wrong, whether they win or lose, at least they know what they’re doing.”
6. Favourite team in the world? Why?
Other than the Springboks, it’s Georgia. I spent a month in Tbilisi earlier this year, and Georgians are proper rugby people: proud, arrogant, ready to fight, even when they can’t possibly win. They’re willing to go to war with Russia, so they certainly aren’t afraid of anyone on the rugby field. A carpet salesman told me: “Rugby is the true expression of the soul of Georgia, except no one dies."
7. Least favourite team? Why?
England. Because of the English.
8. Who will win the World Cup?
South Africa and Ireland should meet in the final, and we will win. There is a danger that Ireland are playing themselves out before their quarterfinal though, and we could meet New Zealand. In that case, we will still win.
9. The most underrated team in the World Cup?
The medical team who put Siya Kolisi back together again so quickly.
10. Your 2023 rugby pet hates?
French rugby stadiums running out of beer before half-time. The haka. South Africans still complaining when Faf de Klerk kicks from the base of the scrum.
11. What do you wish people understood about rugby?
That it’s a source of joy. It’s an opportunity to connect with other people — South Africans and foreigners alike — through the medium of a shared love, and to engage and argue and care very deeply and very publicly about something that doesn’t itself ultimately matter at all. That’s why it’s so important to approach with a smile, with love rather than with fear.
12. The funniest moment you have seen on a rugby field?
The time my friend David drank too much kiwi-fruit Esprit and tried to leopard-crawl naked across the pitch during the first team’s match.
13. Your worst ref moment?
Clive Norling giving a penalty (instead of a free kick) against the Springboks for foot-up in the final scrum of the final Test in 1981.
14. Any superstitions around the game?
In 1998, the Springboks under Nick Mallett were looking to break the record for most consecutive Test wins. I watched the final game at my good friend Barry’s flat. I had never watched there before. We lost the match. I have never watched there again. Just to be sure, I have also never spoken to Barry again.
15. Have you ever noticed any superstitions among certain players?
Cheslin Kolbe always eats the crust of his pizza first.
16. Who would be in your Bok team were we to play in the final?
Koos Kombuis. He is tough, he is versatile, he has endurance, he is an iconic South African and I think he deserves to lift the trophy.
17. If there was no rugby, what would you replace it with?
World peace. Or Test cricket.
Mareli Stolp said of Bristow-Bovey's latest book, Finding Endurance:
“Darrel Bristow-Bovey creates a work that is delicately balanced between history and story — also inheritance, archive, description, science and wishful thinking.
“It's history, a story, a piece of poetry, a travel journal, an adventure tale, an ode to our broken world, and a tremendously strong encouragement to let our world survive."
♦ VWB ♦
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