/ 24 October 2023

Laughing through the lead-up to another Boks thriller

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A tough game lies ahead as South Africa take on New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

South Africans get by on humour — it’s one of our biggest tools for surviving life. Even when faced with the prospect of another nerve-racking rugby match. Two single-point victories in the quarter-finals against France and the semi-finals against England and our collective nerves are shot. 

But we’ll braai up, stock up on the biltong, drink up, don our green and gold on Saturday and get ready to watch the Boks. In the meantime, we’ll talk nonsense on social media. 

First, we took the mickey out of France after narrowly defeating them — amagwinya over croissants any day. 

Then we took on the English. After being outplayed for 70 minutes, we snatched it in the final 10, thanks to a blinder of a kick from Handre Pollard and the unbelievable scrummaging by Ox Nche. 

Banter followed when Irish rugby pundit Matt Williams questioned the Boks’ use of the scrum — his take was that incentivising scrummaging to get the penalty was killing the game.

That did not go down well for him on X. As I write this, he is trending on the platform in South Africa and people are attributing the most absurd, hilarious things to him. In essence, he is receiving a full-on South African roast. 

Here’s an example from someone who calls himself “captain depression”: “Matt Williams says rugby players should be clean-shaven at all times to avoid giving hairy people an advantage in the ruck.” 

Another common comment on social media is that the score is Nelson Mandela 2, Queen Elizabeth 0. This was after the Proteas hammered England in the Cricket World Cup on the same day.

Let’s not get embroiled in the Bongi Mbonambi racial slur allegation and the expletives used. South Africans have been laughing about it all week. But it is a bit worrying because, if the governing body finds him guilty, we could be without a crucial player for the final.

The Boks have the ability to unite the nation like no other team. Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus once said, “We have the privilege of giving people hope … hope is when you play well and people watch the game on a Saturday and have a nice braai and feel good afterwards. No matter your political differences or religious differences … for those minutes you agree on things you wouldn’t normally agree on.”

Rugby has united our nation since 1995. It’s something we look to every time the Boks take to the field. This weekend we take on an old foe — New Zealand’s All Blacks. 

Their trajectory this World Cup has been interesting and not too far from our campaign four years ago. After losing the first group game, they went on to win every other game, including putting 96 on the scoreboard against Italy.

In a warm-up game before the tournament, the Boks gave New Zealand their biggest ever hiding, defeating them 35-7. In that game, New Zealand were reduced to 14 after a red card. I don’t anticipate anything similar. I’m pretty sure we’ll see an extremely close game — don’t be surprised if we have another one-point margin. 

So, how will we deal with the pressure of a final against an in-form New Zealand side who hammered Argentina in the semi-final?

Pressure is a funny thing and can do funny things to people. Everyone reacts differently to it. Some buckle, some rise.

Take Pollard, for example. With two minutes to go, when faced with the option of kicking a penalty that could earn his country a place in the Rugby World Cup semi-final, did he let the pressure get to him? No, he handled it with all the grace, power and accuracy that he usually displays.

And the “Bomb Squad” — South Africa’s reinforcements who come on and cause proper carnage, do they feel pressure? 

If the England game is anything to go by, no — the substitutes, Pollard, Nche, RG Snyman, Deon Fourie, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Vincent Koch and Willie le Roux, all came on and played pivotal roles. Isn’t that the case for them always? So much so that international opponents always have something to say about SA’s Bomb Squad. 

Can we take a moment to appreciate an underrated figure in that team? Albertus Stephanus Smith, better known as Kwagga, rarely receives the same praise as other teammates, but every time he comes on he changes the momentum in favour of the Boks. His tackles, ball carrying and overall gameplay is understated — but impactful. 

In the last two games, the Boks started slowly; we were under the pump early. I doubt whether we can afford that against New Zealand. The All Blacks can punish you. South Africa needs a solid start. 

The win just before the World Cup is not a marker for how things will be. I remember in Ellis Park last year, when they beat us 35-23, players like Richie Mo’unga and Ardie Savea were on fire. There was also the game in Auckland this year where the All Blacks won 35-20. They are by no means an easy win. 

I’m sure our coaching staff will be relishing the prospect of such a tactical battle. So expect pulses to be racing, an epic clash, and some of the finest rugby talent on show. 

For South Africa, selecting the right squad will once again be the conundrum. Meanwhile, world rugby can look forward to another win for either New Zealand or South Africa. The past four have gone to one of these two nations, something very few pundits predicted. (Ngiyaxolisa, jammer and sorry not sorry.)

I’ll leave you with a little piece of humour I found on X this week: “Any hospitals willing to get big screens in their parking lots for Saturday’s final? We might need quick access to medical help if the last two games are anything to go by.”