In South Africa, rugby is almost a religion!
Dad played Natal rugby in 1956 and 1957. He was a Shark before they were known as Sharks!
For the many South African fans of the game, rugby is a serious matter, a source of bursting pride and joy – or shattering disappointment. Our family has always been avid rugby supporters. Except for me. I don’t have the obligatory rugby shirt! I watch only the very special matches. I get enjoyment from those matches but give me tennis and Wimbledon any day. Far more civilised!!!
For the past month, the Rugby World Cup has been advertised on television every-single-day!!! Even I knew that it finally began on the 18th September and South Africa’s first match was on the 19th – with Japan. Glory be, I didn’t even know that Japan played rugby!
“G, (yeah, she calls me G!!!) my television isn’t working, so I’m coming to watch rugby at your place on the 19th,” my friend, Jan informed me.
Giving an inner sigh, I said: “Let’s go round and watch it with Mum, Jans. You know something about rugby. You and she can rugby-talk together!”
“Come in quickly,” Mum greeted us. “They are playing the National Anthems and are just about to start.” I poured us all drinks then went and sat on the sofa with Agassi. Not Agassi the man, obviously. I am reading his book, Open, which I’m finding riveting.
“Apparently in England, the odds on Japan winning are a thousand to one,” I recalled, “Ten pounds in Japan’s favour could earn somebody ten thousand pounds.”
“IF Japan wins, and that is highly unlikely,” said Jan.
Prior to kick-off, Zimbabwe had been the only side the Cherry Blossoms had beaten in the tournament’s history, at the second World Cup in 1991.( Anyone expecting them to wilt in the face of a mighty Springbok side, boasting 851 caps between them, was in for a shock!)
By the second half, Agassi had suffered the fate of most of my men. He had been turfed to one side! I was watching the rugby now with interest. Jan and Mum had been yelling at the screen for some time. The Japanese seemed to be playing really well. The Springboks were not being given a chance to do anything. Each time a Bok got the ball, a Japanese player would be at his knees before his run was even started. The Japanese seemed to be everywhere. All the time!
Coached by Eddie Jones, who was part of the Springboks’ staff during their 2007 triumph, Japan more than matched their renowned opponents. Twice in the dying minutes, trailing by three points, they had the chance to secure a famous draw. Twice they refused, choosing to go all out for what they wanted – a win. Four minutes into injury time, with a mere thirty seconds to go, they finally achieved it! Replacement wing, Karne Hesketh, dived into the corner, over the try line and made World Cup history!
Sir Clive Woodward, former English player and coach, afterwards called the refusals to kick for an easy three points and take a draw “the biggest calls in the history of the World Cup” which resulted in “the best game ever in World Cup history”.
I don’t know about that, not being a rugby follower. I took away different things from that game.
I was astounded by this team that would not give up and take the easy way out. I know how simple it is to give up. When you try and try and try to achieve something and it always stays tauntingly just beyond your reach. You cannot stop trying because to stop is to end your dream. You have to maintain a faith in yourself in order to keep your dream alive and fresh. Each person needs to choose his own way.
The world would have thought a draw with the Boks absolutely incredible. To the Japanese, that was giving in. By refusing to kick for those three points, they were actually saying: No, we will not allow our dream of winning to be vanquished. We are going to fight for it!
Japan caused one of the greatest upsets in Rugby World Cup history by beating two time champion, South Africa 34-32 on Saturday!
I smiled with pride when I read how Olly Barratt, a TV and radio correspondent in London, shared how big hearted South African fans were. When the train pulled into Brighton, South African fans insisted that the Japanese supporters dismounted first. They then gave them a guard of honour and cheered them on their way.
What I will remember from this match are the faces of the Japanese supporters when the final whistle blew. I saw men standing there sobbing quietly, their faces squeezed between a smile and a feeling too deep to name.
That raw emotion will hover in my heart for a long time.