I HAVE a hard time time identifying with anything that isn't family, friends, Irish whiskey or, these days again, the Springboks.
The more intensely you identify with homelands, sports teams, high schools, fashions, art movements or dietary choices, the less room there is in your skull for personality. The more space this nonsense takes up in your brain, the fewer gaps there are for trains of thought. This is probably why so many people seek refuge in as much identification as possible. Stupid is, after all, often easier.
The Lord knows I know plenty of people who expect me to cheer for New Zealand against Ireland tomorrow night, because southern hemisphere.
Are you people off your heads? Are we supposed to cheer for the entire holy southern hemisphere? Would you have expected that if Australia had reached the quarterfinals?
South African teams play in the United Rugby Championship these days because Ireland welcomed us there and New Zealand kicked us out of Super Rugby. It is slowly draining the marrow out of New Zealand rugby. These days, they say, “South Africa left", not “We kicked South Africa out".
Okay, I'll stop now.
I use any excuse to give my favourite set of Marseille rappers a chance to shine. And tomorrow and the day after tomorrow's pre-matches in this millennia-old city may be duller than what we will see from Paris later in the day. But here's the Fonky Family before I go a step further. Marseille at its very best: hard hip-hop with a tune. Filles, flics, descentes. Girls, cops, doom.
Now, that track probably took more of my breath away than the quarterfinal matches between Wales and Argentina (5pm tomorrow) and England and Fiji (5pm on Sunday) will.
My big mouth reckoned a week ago that Fiji would take down Portugal without much trouble, but the Portuguese surprised me for the last time with much delight.
Twenty-point defeats against Wales and Australia, a draw against Georgia and a win against Fiji make me reckon it's as much their tournament as whoever wins it. How can World Rugby screw up that kind of spirit? Ah, let me count the ways:
Fiji's defeat against Portugal does not mean England will not have to fight the day after tomorrow; on the contrary. The weaker the opposition in this tournament, the weaker Fiji were.
England should win, but if not it will definitely be the funniest afternoon the World Cup has ever given us.
Argentina have been the worst underachievers in France this year; I'm almost certain that accurate, boring old Wales will trample them. Pablo Matera is injured and the young Welsh flanker and captain, Jac Morgan, can wreak havoc in his absence. Morgan is going to become a rugby giant.
I have now been criticised left, right and centre for my view that Ireland will most likely beat New Zealand tomorrow night. Admittedly, Ireland are one stretched Sexton muscle away from disaster, and the man is already on the wrong side of 38. Then again, the All Black locks are clearly a bit too old these days, and their props are a bit too young. It's going to be epic. I suspect you have already gathered who I am going to cheer for. Hint:
I love how Ireland use structure to move the game as it pleases them. I've heard criticism about this, but the Irish won their last Test against France and the previous two against the All Blacks and the Boks.
The All Blacks constantly try to make trouble on the sideline. The Irish thump around in the middle and throw the ball wide as soon as there is space. Ireland choose to hold the ball; New Zealand kick enthusiastically.
Look, no matter how much you want to come for me, southern hemisphere, if the All Blacks win this World Cup, it will be their fourth. I can't cope with that idea.
Why am I putting off saying something about the Springboks' Sunday evening Test against France? Because, like most of us I suspect, the prospect unnerves me a little.
Look, the 2023 Springbok team is better than the 2019 one. But the 2011 Springbok team was also significantly better than the 2007 version. In 2011 a rotten referee cost them the cup, but in 2007 a rotten one gave it to them. And in all fairness, old Wayne Barnes is one of the best refs out there, with a job that stays unenviable.
That France are aiming to field their icon, scrum half Antoine Dupont, with his crushed cheek and all, against the Springboks indicates the extreme nerves in their camp.
Even though the man has only one whole cheek, he has two brilliant feet — and this can sour the Boks' night because he is conspicuously at home on either side of the scrum.
If Dupont doesn't play, it shouldn't matter much to the home side. Maxime Lucu was great the other day inside his Bordeaux Bègles flyhalf, Matthieu Jalibert.
If Dupont plays? A year or two ago, Rassie Erasmus agreed that Dupont was exceptional. “But," he wanted to know rhetorically, “will he still look as good if Faf de Klerk chases him around for 80 minutes?"
Apparently, the Boks wanted to play against France in the quarterfinal rather than New Zealand. Golly knows why.
The French and South African game is more similar than people think. They are both relatively comfortable without the ball, while Ireland and New Zealand prefer possession.
Use your feet judiciously to attack; attack the ruck; scrum and jump and pound them madly in the middle before playing swiftly to one of the best wings in the world. One of theirs.
And two of ours:
Let me interrupt myself. Talk about identifying with friends, one of mine, Hendrik Hancke, has a fantastic rugby book on the shelves — Onkant!
Chats with rugby greats such as Schalk Brits, Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth and — *drops mic* — with Frik du Preez. Hilarious and informative.
Here's hoping there's another one every year. It will keep all the old chaps happy at Christmas. Not me, though; I have read it twice already.
I identify with Irish whiskey for Christmas, irrespective of what happens tomorrow evening.
Well, two huge matches are coming up where anything is possible, and young men can become heroes or nothing in an instant. The odds for both late-night Paris matches are such that you should bet on the outcome only if you feel lucky.
It is all, as Bacchus Nel sings here with the consistently excellent Lätti-couple, the way the dice falls.
That one (and alcohol) will help if the Boks lose; maybe a few sangomas and the spirit of MaBrrr will help our men win:
♦ VWB ♦
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