I love South Africa. It is a diseased country (literally as well as metaphorically), and I pray not terminally, but there is no other nation where sport has the ability to transcend all other social problems so congratulations to them on this famous and deserved victory.
I love the country, the climate, the culture (basically braiis and rugby), the people (well, mainly the girls) and I love their passion. For all these reasons I do not begrudge their win in the slightest.
From a supporter’s perspective, I am immensely proud of the English team and of the huge contribution they made to a fierce, uncompromising contest and I am equally delighted to have been there and help the English win the fans’ battle by a distance. There was a universal feeling of heartache at chances missed and an opportunity lost, but I did not witness any vitriol directed at any of the officials, no depression and no regret. Our island race has its faults, but self-pity is not one of them, and the party afterwards was no less raucous because of the result.
Kiwis take note, points and composure win big matches, not refereeing decisions. You can keep your whinging, we’ll simply applaud our boys for overachieving, which I realise must be an unfamiliar concept for rugby-lovers of the silver fern persuasion.
The weekend began with a phenomenal Friday afternoon of ESPN Classic re-runs, including the inside story from the road to world cup glory 2003 and the best of the world cup. Hours of non-stop goosebumps and spellbound viewing set the tone and raised impatience levels. However, it was a good 24 hours later when first hitting the bars around the Bastille that any sign of real world cup fever was evident, although the ferry over was a sea of white shirts and a good number of cars were sporting the Cross of St George.
It was typically French to organise the transport strike for this weekend – good lads – but when I asked the taximan if the chaos on the roads was because of the final/strike/Saturday afternoon he replied it was like that everyday in Paris. Absolute carnage. Getting to the ground via Metro and RER wasn’t as hard as it might have been and the banter on the packed trains helped build the atmosphere. It was also good to see the variety of national shirts being sported by optimistic fans who had retained their tickets anyway.
It is also typically French to construct a brilliant stadium with so many basic design faults. Firstly location, in what is essentially an industrial swamp meaning the walk to the ground is funnelled by grumpy chat-deficient Gendarme down a ridiculously thin passage next to a main road, which bottlenecks horribly at the subway entrances,
Then there is the toilet issue within the ground. It must be the only place in the world where women can answer their calls of nature quicker than the lads, although the absurd lack of urinals does mean you can opt for the more efficient method waz and hand-wash at the same time!
Last stadium issue that slightly disappointed me was actually the acoustics, as despite the fantastic spectacle and sweeping stands, the singing never really rumbles around the place like it can at HQ, and as a sporting coliseum it comes nowhere near matching its predecessor the Parc des Princes for sheer noise by all accounts.
Having said that, it was a privilege to have been there, and I was captivated by every second of the game. There has probably been enough written about the match and every facet analysed to death. The was it/wasn’t it a try was a seminal moment and undoubtedly would have altered the game’s dynamic. The debate will continue as Mark Cueto claims he is 100% confident he scored, whilst Stuart Dickinson is equally happy with his decision, which still photographs hazily seem to back up. My interpretation and I think that of every other pair of eyes in the stadium was that it was a try and when the agonising wait ended in frustration I was stunned as these decisions have generally tended to go the attacking side’s way in moments of doubt.
Regardless, the South Africans won this match for the right reasons. They were clinical, their kicking was near flawless, their lineout was actually flawless and they played error-free final-winning rugby. We might have provided more of the wide stuff, but we didn’t have a game-breaker.
The one we did possess at the back ended his career in a hugely sad way, his aging body now broken twice by the merciless Springboks. There is not a genuine rugby fan worldwide of either code who hasn’t appreciated Jason’s genius over the years: all hail Billy Whizz. In fact, the nearest I have been to seeing any real aggro at a rugby match (off the pitch) was when a Bok fan got slightly impatient at the Englishman in front of him saluting Robo’s limping heroics as play went on, and was swiftly silenced by a torrent of abuse and accusations of lacking respect.
It is a mystery to me why Jonny didn’t take more shots at the drop-goal from numerous great field positions, surely the costly early miss didn’t dent the great man’s confidence? Overall though, neither side left anything on the pitch less for an Herculean amount of sweat and a fair bit of claret.
As ever, the stats don’t come close to telling the story but the simple truth is, South Africa 2 finals, 2 wins, England 1 from 3. In two games we scored 6 points, they put 51 on the board. At least we have a better final record than the Frogs, and the partying into dawn was very much a multi-national, cordial effort. One Englishman we met insisted the Saffas were terrible at celebrating their win, chastened by the unfairness of the try decision and not being able to afford it anyway having spent all their Rand getting to Paris. He got put in a bush.
At the conclusion of an unforgettable tournament, it is only right to thank the Frenchies for putting on a great show, congratulate South Africa for achieving the ultimate accolade and repeat Kenny Rogers’ immortal words from the team’s new adopted anthem:
You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count you’re money, when you’re sitting at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealin’s done…
Four more years boys, four more years.
By Rob Douglas