/ 18 October 2007

Biltong rush as SA prepares for final

With biltong, braais, beer and Bok shirts at the ready, rugby-mad South Africans are preparing to hunker down in style for Saturday’s World Cup final showdown with England.

Even wedding plans are being redrawn to ensure that no one misses a minute of the action from the Stade de France in Paris — the destination of thousands of South Africans lucky enough, or wealthy enough, to get hold of a ticket.

Michelle Miles (30), who is tying the knot on Saturday with fiancé Nic Prinsloo in Pretoria, has reluctantly agreed to have a television at the reception while putting her foot down on having the commentary drown out the dance music.

”When we heard they were playing in the semis, my fiancé said if they make it to the final it’s going be on our wedding day. I nearly had a heart attack,” the bride said. ”If the Springboks lose, then the party is going to be over very quickly. I am afraid that some people aren’t even going to pitch up because of the rugby.”

Biltong rush

Despite forecasts of rain, many fans are planning to mark the World Cup with a braai along with plentiful supplies of biltong as an alternative to chomping on nails.

”Rugby and biltong, it goes hand in hand. It is part of the South African tradition,” Johnny Volbrecht, manager of Johannesburg’s Boesmanland Biltong store, said as he served a steady stream of customers. ”Most people that come and buy will all be talking rugby. We expect a busy weekend,” he added.

Retailers who stock the Springboks’ gold and green shirts have also been enjoying a sales bonanza, with jerseys now harder to find than hen’s teeth.

Faeez Mahri, manager of the Sportsmans Warehouse, said that Springbok winter jackets were flying off the shelves even though day-time temperatures were approaching 30 degrees Celsius. ”Our shirts sold out two weeks ago,” Mahri added.

Teacher Verna Bester was spending her Thursday frantically searching for Springbok shirts for fellow staff at her Johannesburg primary school, with most schools instituting a green-and-gold dress code for Friday. ”Yesterday I shopped the whole afternoon. Now I am taking time out from school to come shopping,” she said.

Street vendors have been doing a brisk trade all over Johannesburg, with flags, caps and shirts on sale at traffic lights and interchanges.

Match day

Along with South African President Thabo Mbeki, several thousand supporters are expected to be in Paris on match day, even if they are yet to secure a ticket for the Stade de France.

Some die-hard fans are ready to break the bank to get to the match, with the highest bid on a rugby ticket on eBay at $13 000 (about R88 700).

The French embassy is issuing about 600 visas a day, and despite South African Airways announcing additional flights to Paris, spokesperson Robyn Chalmers says ”these are filling up quickly”.

Flight Centre travel consultant Brandyn Watkins said most of these flights were snapped up straight away. ”It’s hectic, you just can’t get there at the moment,” he said.

While for many South Africans a trip to the final match is a distant dream, Clive Soldin of Johannesburg could not believe his luck when an old university friend called him at the last moment to invite him to the game.

”A friend who is a very wealthy man offered me a ticket. It is unbelievable. I am mad about rugby,” said Soldin, visibly nervous as he waited at the French consulate for a last-minute visa.

”I never thought I would get to Paris to watch the game. I don’t think I could have afforded the trip on my own,” he said, adding his friend was whisking off a group of 20 people, all flights and accommodation paid for. ”I don’t even want to know how he organised the flights, or what he paid for the tickets.” — AFP