A bleak view of the green and gold from the banks of the Orange

I watched Saturday’s rugby from a guesthouse on the banks of the Orange River. My sons and I were driving up to Jo’burg from the University of Cape Town for the holidays and we broke our journey by spending the night in a converted stable north of Colesberg. We arrived some way through the second half, when the Springboks were losing, hoping, in a vague and increasingly disconsolate way, for a Newlands miracle.

There is nothing quite like the almost comic pain of watching something you know the outcome of in advance, hoping against hope that things will turn out otherwise. The thought crossed my mind that the last 10 or 15 minutes of the Test were a pithy summary of Allister Coetzee’s entire Springbok coaching career, part trailer, part ghastly forewarning.

It was as though we were being given a glimpse of the future and it was doom-laden to a horrible degree. Just “Toetie’s” luck to inherit a team low on international-class performers who are schooled in a brand of unimaginative, break-the-door-down rugby, increasingly at odds with the more progressive currents in the modern game.

Being on the banks of the Orange, I was rather looking forward to a guesthouse pub full of peppery locals with very large twin-cab bakkies parked outside. Here would be men wearing old rugby socks with their khaki shorts and veldskoene, despite the weather. 

I imagined a variety of faded posters on the bar walls — Danie Gerber, maybe, or the fearsome Louis Moolman — with a range of surprisingly upmarket brandies on offer behind the counter and a good range of beers in the fridge.

The give-and-take around the television would be spirited but never nasty, the artefacts and memorabilia in our cosy corner culled from the breadth of the rugby-playing world. The perfect evening — with a plate of boerekos waiting — would be rounded off by Lwazi Mvovo touching down in the corner for a Springbok win, a score that would have made even the usually bumptious ANC Youth League happy. 

We would all drink more than we should, swear our lifelong friendship to people we would usually ignore and be on our way the following morning without giving the evening a second thought.

Alas, it all turned out slightly differently. Instead of the platteland bar of my imagination, the three of us huddled around a small television, cold and beerless, in our converted stable.  We had been given an early taste of the action by Craig Ray, commentating on the Test for SAfm as we ploughed through the Karoo darkness in my son’s overladen Figo, carrying, among other essential items of student life, a ukulele. Ray reached a new dimension in drollery after CJ Stander had hospitalised Pat Lambie by saying that things were getting rather “tasty”. 

We all had a good laugh as we nosed through the darkness, wondering when the Boks’ were going to find their mojo and give the assorted Rorys, Paddys and Jamies their deserved comeuppance.

Of course, said comeuppance never arrived. The Boks spent 80 long minutes looking for their mojo and, had it not been for Pieter-Steph du Toit’s intercept try, the scoreline would have looked even worse than it did because, let’s face it, losing 26-20 almost makes things respectable. It wasn’t close, we all know that. 

More galling was Du Toit’s omission from the starting line-up. It took me some time to be convinced by the Stormers lock. But now I’m certain that he’s not only one of the smarter players around but a future Springbok captain. 

What our rugby so badly needs is the razor of intelligence, something to cut through the complacent fat of our culture, with its empty talk of Bok “physicality”, its lack of skill and comparative hokum. 

I was on the banks of the Orange River on Saturday night, far, far away, but even I could see that, unless we start thinking differently about the game, we’re in for a very long winter indeed.

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