You need to understand two things about my family, firstly we hate to lose! Plain and simple we battle to accept defeat in any form (in fact I’ve failed to write anything on the Boks because the anger wells up too fast and strong) and second we hate being ‘cheated’ out of a win even more!
This is the note I got from my brother who lives on an island in Thailand after the loss with the simple words as a subject I’m STILL ANGRY!
I thought it was a dream this morning, when I woke up, still hazy. This was not some ‘run of the mill,’ petty unfairness, the trickery of school children, a parking ticket, or a passing over; this was a travesty, a mythical deception, a monumental injustice – Brutus slaying Caesar, Jacob deceiving Esau, another Bush being elected to the White House; it was as if Dolos the Greek God of craftiness, treachery and guile was honing his skills at Wellington Regional Stadium in New Zealand yesterday, and his target was the Springboks; just because. I thought as much when I woke up; an impossible fairy tale.
It was the same as my dream in the reports, when I checked the Internet. Australia 11 South Africa 9 – a perverse reversed distress call.
Reality bites, sure, okay, we all know that – but NOT that HARD!
Denial turned to anger. It’s hard to swallow, losing to Australia anytime, never mind LIKE THAT, in a World Cup Quarter Final. This loss covers like an unrepentant fog; it lingers like a fart in a closed, hot, and stuck elevator; it hurts like a kick, with a lead boot, in the balls.
At half time it was Australia 8 South Africa 3, inconceivably if you watched, and had your eyes open. Australia’s points were scored with disdain to conventional rugby wisdom and logic; they were nothing less than miracle points, a try from a mistaken turn over, and a penalty for South African hands supposedly in at the breakdown; fate has nothing if not a sense of irony. It was a tough ask to come back from there. I never gave the Springboks much hope of answering. They did in the second half; they came out like fire and burnt their way back. It was ball in the hand charge the bulkhead type stuff. We won lineouts, and scrums, and attacked, and ran, and scrapped; no respite, no rest, no little grubber kicks to the corner, just wave upon wave of green and gold thunder, hearts on sleeves. This is the Australian team that recently won the Tri Nations. For most of the the second half, they looked exactly the children they are, standing like Goo Goo Dolls, throwing themselves wherever they could, punch drunk, distressed – almost imbecilic. No doubt, they were up against it, that was some of the finest, and most exciting rugby I have ever seen a Springbok team play. It ought to have been, it’s the most capped side in World Cup history. It’s a team full of warriors. It’s a team full of Legends. It showed. They did not let up, not for one second.
We went ahead, deservedly I thought: South Africa 9 Australia 8.
Yes…Now…Score. I’m not sure what kept us out after that, I’m not really sure what kept us out before that; a little knock, a fifty fifty not to hand, an illegal pilfer at the breakdown, a gust of wind, some dark magic sorcery, GOD?
Then ‘another dubious decision’, as a New Zealand writer put it, and a penalty. It’s almost the only time the Aussies touched the ball in the second half, that penalty. ‘Not like this,’ I said, when that little blond faced kid kicked it over. Australia 11 South Africa 9, and that’s how it ended, I don’t know how.
‘Sometimes shit happens that doesn’t make sense,’ said Edward, an Englishman and regular at the Green Man Pub in Phuket where I was watching, as the Aussies celebrated, ‘that’s sports.’ Not gravity defying shit, I wanted to say, but I couldn’t talk, I was too gutted. I can imagine what it must be like for the Springboks. They were there, on that field; they played what we all watched – an annihilation, and now they are coming home. Australia played rugby from minute 11 to minute 17, the rest of the time they just tried to get in the way; tenaciously, I’ll admit. They survived at the breakdown, like rats, cockroaches, and small infestations of some stinking thing; a disease…I go too far, sorry, the bile rose again. It’s just a game, but anyone who loves South Africa, and rugby knows it is more than that.
There is no moral victory over Australia. We lost, and that is it, better to accept, and move on. ‘Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve,’ my mother always says.
The Coach has resigned. It was his only move, the last World Cup, when the team won the whole thing, SARFU or SARU, whatever the paper shufflers are now called, fired him. Must be nice for the Coach to go out on the same day as John Smit, and Victor Matfield; that’s got to make one feel powerful. Man I’m going to miss those guys standing in the tunnel, they’re not irreplaceable, no one is, but it’s close.
Over the next couple of days, the papers might point some fingers, allude to some nonsense, talk about youth, and age, wonder about game plans, some of our own (ego’s, past players, those not a part of it) might take a couple of cheap shots at the players of this team.
Don’t you do it!
Don’t you forget!
In this team were the winners of one Rugby World Cup; two out of South Africa’s three Tri Nations Championships; and all three of South Africa’s Super Rugby Championships. This team has three times been named the IRB World Team of the year. There was nothing old, or tired, or derelict about this team. On the day they were ferocious, they were consistent, they were warriors, they were as good as I’ve ever seen them play,as good as I’ve ever seen any Springbok team play. They were almost perfect. Since early 2004 this team has taken South Africa to the top of world rugby, a place we always laid claim, but never before belonged. For me it’s the greatest rugby team South Africa has ever had. It’s possibly the greatest the rugby world has ever seen. It’s a team full of names we will all remember for a long time. I never thought there was honour in losing, today I think differently.
Hail to all of you, Springboks of Rugby World Cup 2011 from the Beautiful South. I can always find fault, but I can’t fault you. You were magnificent.
PS: I wish I could be there to greet this team when they get home. I hope those who can be there turn up. I think the team might like that. I think after all the good times, they deserve it.