My father was a rugby player.
He was a small boy at school but in his final year his body decided to make up for lost time. He grew to 6 feet 3 inches and suddenly seemed to come into his own. He began playing rugby and discovered that he was actually seriously good. At university he played wing for the Sables. This was the combined South African university rugby team. My father travelled to places he’d only dreamed about as a boy – England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France. Dad captained East Africa in the 50’s. Mums realised that rugby and Dad went together and she too became an addict. In fact, our whole family became addicted to rugby. My brother and sisters and their families adore it. Even Tyson, the Boxer, is a keen follower!
I am the odd one out.
I honestly find little pleasure watching people chase a ball around a pitch in the most absurd manner. They fling their bodies after the ball, pulling and scrambling at each other in an utterly ridiculous fashion, attempting to score a try. Rugby is definitely not my game! Give me a civilised game of tennis any day.
The only time I have shown any real interest in rugby was during my final year of school. I went with my friends to watch St. Stithians play St. John’s. This was a big match. I had no idea of the rules and little liking for the game. But who could resist going with your friends to watch all of those delicious boys fighting it out on a rugby field. Particularly when one of those boys, Mike, caught my eye. He was blonde, small and incredibly nimble.
“When everyone goes into a crablike huddle on the field,’ I asked Angie, “ who is the guy that hovers around on the outside waiting for the ball?”
“It’s called a scrum, you twit, and that is the scrum half you are talking about. I will introduce you to Mike afterwards.”
I look at my Matric Dance photograph of myself and Mike and smile. Scrum half is the one position I am able to identify on the field!
“This is when I miss your father so much,” Mums commented to me whist pouring over her World Cup Rugby magazine. “He would so have loved all the rugby that is being played.”
This remark really made my heart ache. I hadn’t even thought of that. The aloneness of Mums exclaiming in delight and groaning in despair while watching a game she used to love with Dad. She was now doing all that by herself.
“Who is playing next?” I asked.
“England are playing New Zealand, the All Blacks.”
“Oh, glory, the English won’t stand a chance.” Taking a deep breath, I said: “I’m coming to watch with you.”
My mother’s face was a picture. Her ‘non-rugby’ daughter had volunteered to spend the afternoon with her – watching rugby! I arrived to discover my favourite Lindt chocolate sitting on ‘my’ chair.
“Thank you,” Mums smiled.
I was tired of New Zealand always winning so I was supporting England. Mums was supporting New Zealand because part of the family now live there.
“Come on now, you twelve, go for it!” I enthused.
“Fifteen,” laughed Mums.
“Fifteen in a team,” I said surprised, “I didn’t know that.”
This scrum half identifier, totally clueless, definitely not a rugby fan sat with Mums and watched England play New Zealand.
I was taught something that afternoon. In rugby you can never predict. England beat New Zealand 19-7. New Zealand’s champion reign of eight years had been broken.
South Africa beat Wales in the semifinals. That meant South Africa vs England in the finals!
How I wished that my mother had better company than me to join her on this rugby excursion. One of my favourite photographs of Dad is of him in his element watching a past rugby World Cup game joined by my two sisters, Liz and Megs. The photograph literally seems to vibrate with their excitement and joy.
This year, my mother truly entered into the whole World Cup spirit. Outside her home, she embedded a Rugby World Cup Springbok flag into the beautiful Jasmine bush. For each game, she dressed in an old Springbok rugby jersey that was given to her by a player who was a family friend in 1961. So when South Africa and England were due to fight it out in the final, I arrived at Mums’ also bedecked in green and gold. This rugby spirit was catching!
As I watched the South Africans singing our National Anthem, tears trickled down my cheeks. Mums was behaving in the exactly the same way. Obviously a family trait! This non-rugby fan was getting a little bit enthusiastic about this game with the bullet shaped ball! They began and as usual, so did my questions.
“A penalty! They have got a penalty against us. That is totally ridiculous, Mums! Why on earth did they get that penalty?”
“Because we did a forward pass.”
“In rugby, a forward pass is forbidden.”
How utterly ridiculous! Amidst this huge melee taking place before me, a simple forward pass was not allowed. This rugby was up the pole!
“I really like the scrum half.”
Mums was gob smacked that I knew which position the scrum half was.
“He reminds me of Mike. Remember the rugby player that took me to my Matric Dance,” I laughed, “he was nimble in so many ways!”
Then blow me down if I didn’t suddenly see one of the South African players cheat!
He went jogging to the side. Another Springbok patted him on the back and promptly went on to replace him.
“We can’t do that!” I hissed at Mums.
The rugby team couldn’t hear me. Why was I whispering?
“He clearly wasn’t sick. And now he’s been replaced by a fresh, strong man rearing to go. I am completely disappointed in the Springboks.”
I felt like walking out. I couldn’t bear cheating and to see it done so openly by my Springboks, just finished me. My Mums tried to say something but was laughing so much she couldn’t get her words out.
“I honestly don’t see what’s so hilarious. They were cheating, Mums,” I said in a bit of a huff.
Mums finally explained to me that this wasn’t cheating. It was all part of this mind blowing game of rugby.
And we won! I couldn’t believe it. South Africa who had lost the first game they played, had ended up winning the World Cup.
Rassie Erasmus, their coach, said: “In South Africa, pressure is not having a job. Pressure is having a close relative who is murdered. Rugby shouldn’t be something that places pressure on you. It should be something that creates hope.”
How much hope was created by the winning of that Cup!
I fell in love with the rugby captain, Siya Kolisi, that afternoon. He finished off his wonderful speech by saying:
“We have so many problems in our country. To have a team like this: We come from different backgrounds, different races but we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it. With all the challenges we have, our coach said to us: We’re not playing for ourselves anymore. We’re playing for the people back home.
We love you South Africa and we can achieve anything if we work together as one.”
I have an admission to make.
During those three matches, this ‘scrum half identifier, totally clueless, definitely not a rugby fan’ thoroughly enjoyed herself!
In actual fact, I had a ball.
A bullet shaped kind of ball that gets passed from one to another, to land in a try.
Try, South Africa, let’s try!!!