Entering a new realm in rugby, of truly endless possibilities

We are about to enter uncharted territory with this world cup. Not by virtue of winning it, but for the diehard racists among us. As writer and commentator Darrel Bristow-Bovey noted on Monday: 

“One of the best things about the Boks doing well is thinking about the people who are furious they’re doing well, the people who are emotionally invested in seeing different South Africans failing together, rather than succeeding. I’m glad they’re having a bad week.

“The real question is whether the unhappiest of those people are on the far right or the South African far left. Maybe it’s a draw. Maybe they should all share the same clubhouse while the rest of us find some joy in this too-frequently vexing world.”

The great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously said: “some people think of football as life or death, I assure you it’s far more important than that”. For a lot of South Africans, who are neither professional haters nor rabid fans, the Springbok world cup journey has provided a very welcome lifeboat from a tsunami of bad news and fuel fed hatred. 

There’s been a mythical synchronicity to this world cup campaign; from no-hopers going down 57-0 to New Zealand only two years ago to rugby championship winners – albeit a truncated version –  in August and now almost three months later on the cusp of a treble; 12 years since the second grasp of the Webb Ellis trophy and 24 years since Madiba pulled on Francois Pienaar’s jersey and handed the cup to the skipper for our first win.

There was a young boy who watched the 2007 Rugby world Cup final in Paris from a tavern in Port Elizabeth, because he didn’t have a TV at home. It’s another amazing South African tale. A journey of hope, from extreme poverty to becoming the first black captain of the Springbok team and be on the threshold of potentially winning the country’s third world cup, an achievement that has been the preserve only of the All Blacks until now.

It’s a tale that not even the creatives who contrive the racial harmony beer ads could have come up with; a story line that is as worthy of a film as John Carlin’s Invictus or the Brighton Miracle when the Brave Blossoms beat the Boks at their first attempt at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

That victory would take Japan on a journey to become the first Asian team to make the quarter-finals, the year Japan became the first Asian country to host the tournament – only to be out-muscled in a clinical display by Kolisi’s Boks, which are already the most diverse side ever to represent the country, all of whom have been chosen because they are the best in their positions – not to meet quota targets.

As Mark Twain famously said: “truth is stranger than fiction because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” Win or lose today, it’s been an incredible journey. Siya Kolisi, siyamthanda. Enkosi. Rassie Erasmus, ons is lief vir jou. Baie dankie.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 2 November 2019.