Jnr Boks/Gazelle ; the early years

After the trails for the selection of a Springbok side to tour the United Kingdom in 1931 the general feeling among selectors was that another equally strong Springboks side could easily be selected. That is a second Springbok team of almost equal ability that could potentially challenge if not beat the side that was selected to tour.

A tour was consequently arranged for these unlucky players to Argentina and the team was officially called the Gazelle. This tour took place in 1932 under the management of Paul Roos and the captaincy of Joe Nykamp. The side consisting of uncapped players wore blue shirts emblazoned with springbok head, red stockings and white shorts. They played eight matches; won all of them and scored 269 points with only 24 points scored against them. The two matches against a representative Argentinian side the Gazelles won 42-0 and 34-3 respectively. Gimnasia y Esgrima, a club coached and captained by B.H Heatlie gave the South African Gazelles stern opposition and lost by only 11-5 in the last game of the tour. Heatlie was the man who captained South Africa in their first ever international against a British touring side. Continue reading

Greyling and Ellis; Pair made in heaven

After my tribute to Jan Ellis I thought I just have to write something about the man who was a big part of Jan’s success as a Springbok rugby player, Piet Greyling.

Currie Cup-winning Transvaal captain in 1971 and 1972, former Springbok flanker Piet Greyling, was arguably one of the best, but certainly one of the toughest.

The picture below shows Piet Greyling with his Transvaal side who got a share of the Currie Cup for the first time in 19 years -having previously won it in 1952- when they shared the cup with Northern Transvaal in an epic final and controversial 14-14 draw at Ellis Park in 1971. The next year Greyling led his Transvaal side to a 25-19 win over Eastern Transvaal at Pam Brink Stadium in Springs to win the cup with the help of Gerald Bosch who dropped the winning points in the final minutes.  It was back in 1972, before the Currie Cup final against Eastern Transvaal in Springs that the former Bok captain uttered these famous words to his Transvaal team-mates: “Eighty minutes of agony for an eternity of pleasure.” Continue reading

In memory: Jan Ellis

Jan Ellis personifies Springbok rugby, for me. It has been said that as humans we think in pictures. When we think of something we see a picture of some sorts and this picture can differ from one person to the next which is why we sometimes voice the same words but come up with different understanding or meaning. The best communicators are those who can create clear and vivid pictures in the mind of his listeners.

When I think of Springbok rugby I see Jan Ellis. Hard uncompromising, fast with a touch of artistic moodiness and flair but with relentless motivation to succeed based on a staunch work ethic and absolute conviction of what is right and wrong; that is Jan Ellis in a nutshell, for me.  Continue reading

Match fixing, sport marketing and drug cheating

The three aspects above seemed to have been the main topic in the sports headlines over the last month or so. I thought the SBW and White Buffalo fight was a cocktail that contained most if not all three of the above mentioned ingredients. 

My immediate thought when I heard about the SBW vs François Botha boxing contest was that it was a SBW self-marketing scheme and most likely rigged. My evaluation after last night farce is still on that track. Let’s face it SBW got a brilliant agent that knows how to market his product and how to make money with this freakish specimen.  Continue reading

Cyclic patterns in Sport

Cyclic patterns are prevalent in the weather, in economy, in markets, in life in general and in Sport. Old Joseph in the bible secured himself a position of status and wealth by explaining this concept to the Faro. South Africans rugby has just completed one of those cyclic patterns with players like Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez, John Smith, Percy Montgomery and so forth. These players carried South Africa for longer than a decade.

The saddest thing for me was when these players were at the top of their game SARU in their wisdom negated all that experience and talent by selecting a puppet as a coach.  Continue reading

Scrappy draw irritating and embarrassing

The boks were drawn into the Argentinians messy and scrappy style of play. Maybe it’s time for referees to start acting on the Pumas persistent illegal tactics at the tackle ball as well as their time wasting actions at the scrum and lineout.

One can go on and argue that this result is good for Argentinian rugby and that a competitive Argentinian team is good for the competition. Personally I don’t feel like going up that road.

It was scrappy; it was irritating; it was ugly and it pulled Southern hemisphere rugby right back into the nineteen sixties in my opinion.    Continue reading

Did Caster really want to win?

I have a great deal of sympathy for Caster Semenya. I think she went through a terrible ordeal and the final results of the investigation left her in a space of just trying to be normal. 

Playing psycho-analyst I would say she is trying to obtain that illusion of normality by not standing out. By reducing her athletic performances to the level of the rest of the field; by being out of shape like the majority of other people and by coming second instead of first. 

The way she came back in the last 150 meters just indicate that she was by far the best athlete in that group. But she is out of shape probably 10 kg overweight and in athletic terms that’s a huge burden to carry.

The importance of social acceptance, family and friends is evident every time an athlete wins as can be seen when they run to their support groups or when they listen to the national anthem during the medal ceremonies. 

I did not see Caster running up to supporters and exhibiting the same exhilaration as the other athletes. She was emotionally flat and my feeling is she purposely avoided winning as that would put her in the limelight yet again. 

Gold medal winners or any Olympic athlete for that matter are ‘freaks’; they receive something special at birth and being an Olympic champion comes with a price. Of course they work hard and train extensively but you need the genes first and foremost. 

Casters genetic make-up left her in a bit of a spot of bother and she needs somebody to snap her out her current mindset. Fact is she received a gift that she needs to embrace. It could have been far worse (and it is for many). She could have received a genetic make-up that saw her living with a disease like cystic fibrosis or cancer. 

Yes it is tough at the Olympic Games and I might be totally wrong in the sense that it was only a matter of her not being able to handle the pressure and running tactically a bad race. Looking at her shape and her performances since 2009 I have a feeling there is more to it. 

It is sad seeing a young athlete struggling with such an emotional burden. My hope is that she gets help dealing with this emotional issue soon as the careers of athletes are short. The window is small and she has at most one more Olympic games in which she can win gold. The starting point for her is to accept herself and make the most of her rather unique gift.   In the final analysis winning silver on the world stage is something special in itself and one has to congratulate her with this achievement.

Looking at her accelation over the last 80 meters and her performance in 2009 my feeling is she is something really special; one of those truelly rare gifted athletes that’s in a different class. Silver in that regard could be seen as underperforming.

Hat’s off to both teams

What an epic final. France was simply outstanding winning everything except on the scoreboard.

 

I underestimated them; who didn’t? They showed up and surprised us all taking the All Blacks on up front and at the rucks. Like South Africa against Australia maybe just a bit too predictable and lacking variation on attack. Some stab through kicks into space behind the NZ backline maybe an option they should have considered.

 

The French backrow was simply inspirational. The ball control at the rucks excellent and some good offloads as well to keep the ball off the ground and alive. What about that French tight five taking the AB’s on in the scrum and line-out and winning the battle? Simply heroic stuff.

 

That pressure upfront transferred into Weepu and Cruden who both didn’t had the space the All Blacks halfbacks normally enjoy. This eliminated Weepu greatly as playmaker and took the NZ backline out of the match culminating into a situation where we saw even Nonu being replaced late in the second half.

 

On the tournament as a whole France probably did not deserve to win. On the night they were very unlucky not to pull it off.

 

I feel for France as they left nothing on the park and played at 120% of their ability for 80 minutes.

 

Did New Zealand choke?

 

They were certainly extremely lucky to walk off the field as winners. They were rattled at stages under pressure, I thought, but all credit to McCaw for keeping his troops together when France were hammering relentlesly in the trenches at the All Black defence.

 

Lastly, considering how the kickers (in both teams) succumbed under the pressure one has to take your hat of for two-step Percy Montgomery who handled all that pressure in 2007 and won us the cup with his place kicking.

 

Congratulation New Zealand for learning the lessons of the last 24 years and accepting that the RWC is won with tournament rugby and not with flashy fancy pants razzle dazzle stuff.

 

NZ played for position and pinned the French team down in the right side of the field in the first half and kept on pushing them back with long ranging kicks in the second half.

 

Perversely though I would have enjoyed a French victory just for the pure sake of nailing NZ for the next four years with the ‘chokers’ tag. 

When class merge with proper preparation

The concept of the X-factor actually comes from racehorses, specifically from a horse called Eclipse. An extremely large heart is a trait that occasionally occurs in Thoroughbreds, linked to a genetic condition passed down via the dam line, known as the “x-factor”. The x-factor can be traced to the historic racehorse Eclipse, which was necropsied after his death in 1789. Because Eclipse’s heart appeared to be much larger than other horses, it was weighed, and found to be 14 pounds (6.4 kg), almost twice the normal weight. Eclipse is believed to have passed the trait on via his daughters, and pedigree research verified that arguable the best racehorse ever namely Secretariat can trace in his dam line to a daughter of Eclipse. In the 20th century, the heart of Phar Lap was weighed and also documented to be 6.35 kilograms (14.0 lb), or essentially the same size as that of Eclipse.

 

Now you might ask what this has got to do with the All Blacks and the RWC final.

 

I recently saw a movie about the above mentioned famous racehorse Secretariat who became only the ninth horse in history to win the Triple Crown.

 

In the United States, the three races that compose the Triple Crown are:

  1. Kentucky Derby, run over 1-1/4 miles (2.01 km) dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky;
  2. Preakness Stakes, run over 1-3/16 miles (1.91 km) dirt track at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland;
  3. Belmont Stakes, run over 1-1/2 miles (2.41 km), the longest dirt track in thoroughbred racing, at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.

 

No horse has won the U.S. Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

 

A summary of Triple Crown winners since 1919 can be seen in the table below:

 

Year

Winner

1919

Sir Barton

1930

Gallant Fox

1935

Omaha

1937

War Admiral

1941

Whirlaway

1943

Count Fleet

1946

Assault

1948

Citation

1973

Secretariat

1978

Affirmed

 

 

Secretariat at the Blemont Stakes in 1973. Notice the distance between him and the other horses.

 

What makes the Triple Crown such a hard assignment is the fact that the three races are run over three different distances with the Belmont Stakes considerably longer than the other two races.

 

The story of Secretariat is a fascinating tale of struggling against the odds by a woman with the name of Penny Chenery (Penny Tweedy) who inherited the horse before its birth from her father,

 

Secretariat’s sire was a sprinter and although Secretariat was named horse of the year as a two year old there was serious doubt whether he will succeed as a three year old because the races of the 3 year olds are ran over longer distances.

 

The fact that he lost one of his early races as a three year old when he had (unknown to the trainer) a tooth abbess didn’t help to the get the tag all-speed-no-stay of his back.

 

So even after Secretariat went on and won the first two races of the Triple Crown (over 2 and 1.9 km respectively) in 1973 there was still serious doubt as to whether he had enough speed endurance to last the distance in the Belmont Stakes ran over 2.4 km.  

 

Only four horses competed against Secretariat for the June 9, 1973, running of the Belmont Stakes, including Sham, which had finished second in both the Derby and Preakness which is of course the two other races of the Triple Crown.

 

Secretariat was renowned as a slow starter who only moved to the front late in the race so the tactic by Shams owners going into the race was to try and pull Secretariat to the front and tire him out.

 

One race day before a crowd of 67,605, Secretariat and Sham set a fast early pace, opening ten lengths on the rest of the field. Everyone was thinking what the hell is the Jockey doing but Secretariat was such a dominating personality that the instruction to his Jockeys was always along the lines of ‘let him run his own race’. After the six-furlong (1.2 km) mark, Sham began to tire, ultimately finishing last. Secretariat astonished spectators by continuing the fast pace and opening up a larger and larger margin on the field. (See video clip below).

 

In the stretch, Secretariat opened a 1/16 mile lead on the rest of the field. At the finish, he won by 31 lengths (breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet in 1943, which won by 25 lengths), and ran the fastest 1½ miles on dirt in history, 2:24 flat, which broke the stakes’ record by more than two seconds. This works out to a speed of 37.5 mph for his entire performance. Secretariat’s world record still stands, and in fact, no other horse has ever broken 2:25 for 1½ miles on dirt.

 

Secretariat became the ninth Triple Crown winner in history, and the first in 25 years since 1948.

 

Watching the movie the sheer class of Secretariat brought tears to my eyes. I watched that movie three times and cried each time due to the class and astounding brilliance of that magnificent animal.

 

After his death in 1989 a necropsy revealed his heart was significantly larger than that of an ordinary horse.

 

Now the interesting thing about Secretariat was that he was not totally invincible and in a career of 21 races he won 16 (76.1%). The devastating form revealed on June 9, 1973 at the Belmont Stakes had much to do with his trainer Lucien Laurin getting it right on that particular day. Laurin sensed after the Preakness Stakes that the horse had more to give and contrary to common practice which was to taper the horse in the weeks prior to the Belmont Laurin pushed the horse harder.

 

So it was very much a case where class (genetic potential/x-factor) fused with the right preparation to produce something spectacular.

 

The All Blacks are probably the team with the most x-factor players in the entire rugby world. Combine that with 24 years of simmering frustration and 3 coaches with a burning desire and relentless commitment over 4 years to rectify a mistake you have the same mix as on June 9, 1973 during the Belmont Stakes; x-factor coalescing with proper preparation.

 

So my gut feeling is that NZ is going to pull a Secretariat on France this weekend and I predict the pure class; the desire and preparedness of this All Black team are going to produce something out of this world on Sunday night.

 

We all love to see the underdog defy the odds.

 

There is nothing as exhilarating as to see the human spirit triumph against all odds and that is probably one of the reasons why the French team is always everyone’s favourite second team. They -more than any other nation on earth- have the uncanny ability to defy the odd; to produce upsets that leaves behind a sense of everything are possible.

 

The other side of the coin which also leave us with and an enduring sense of reverence is when class merge with preparedness and produce something that stuns the world into awed silence. It will be one of those moments, I believe, where in the midst of it we will realize we are witnessing something incomparable to anything we’ve seen before.

THE BLUE BULL AND THE PEACOCK

I know it is RWC time and I have written before (read here) about the fairy tale Curry Cup win of Griqualand West against the mighty blue bulls in 1970. This week I received this wonderfully written account by Michael Kokkinn about that historic match. Micheal’s father was not only one of the selectors of the Griquas team but also a sort of mentor for coach Ian Kirkpatrick. Michael actually attended the match in 1970 and here is his first hand personal recollection of the match.

 

My personal thanks to Michael for this personal first hand recollection of that match. You can feel the passion for the game as you read his story. This is heartland South African rugby and it is people like him that make South African rugby what it is.  

 

THE BLUE BULL AND THE PEACOCK

                                                                                                                                              By Michael Kokkinn

 

The Griquas were a tribe of warrior-like people that originated from a mixture of Hottentot and Dutch blood. They were good horsemen and they handled their rifles as well any boer. At a time when South Africa was in a territorial flux they formed a small nation.

 

Sadly, the angry little tribe split in two and later was dispossessed by an artful British Government. Though those proud yellow-skinned clans have long since disappeared, one can still find territories called East and West Griqualand in South Africa today.

 

The major reason for Britain’s annexation of Griqualand West was the discovery of diamonds there, first in Vaal River gravels and later at New Rush, now called Kimberley after the British Colonial Secretary of the time.

 

The sparkling wealth that came out of Kimberley’s blue-ground funded the grand colonial projects of the British Empire and, today, priceless South African diamonds still adorn the ceremonial jewellery of its queen.

 

For a while Kimberley was the commercial hub of South Africa. All roads led there, carrying supplies of every kind. The town attracted an endless string of fortune-seekers: miners, engineers, merchants, performers, publicans and prostitutes. It was an era when it was said that one could spit from one pub to the next in the town centre where over a hundred such establishments had sprung up.

 

The diamond bonanza in West Griqualand, later monopolized by the Machiavellian Cecil Rhodes, was used to bring forth an even greater bonanza to the north in the Transvaal: the gold mines of Johannesburg! And then, over the ensuing decades, the vitality of Kimberley slowly drained northwards, leaving only historical echoes of the ephemeral opulence which had once flared there. The ever-waning Kimberley became a conservative little town perched in the Great Karroo with little claim to fame.

 

By the time that I was born there in 1947, Kimberley was little more than a ‘hick’ town with some historical interest. Despite this, it was all I knew and I loved the place and its surrounds as subliminally as does a pigeon love its home loft. I still do, despite the further obliteration of its character by a new order of bureaucrat.

 

One of Kimberley’s peculiar claims to fame was a pub called The Halfway House. It and its sister, The Killarney Hotel, were unique in South Africa in that one could be served alcoholic drinks while parked in a car, just like at the roadhouses in America. For us under-age drinkers, this was a great boon.

 

Sporting teams from Kimberley and the territory to the north west fell under the banner of Griqualand West, affectionately known as “Griquas”. These teams usually had one major feature in common: they were weak! At every tournament, be it cricket, hockey, netball, swimming or rugby, one could be sure that Griquas would bring home the wooden spoon. Griquas was the sporting punch-bag of South Africa.

 

Occasionally there would be a small conflagration of talent and a team would score a second or a third in a national competition, but these achievements seemed to underline the mediocrity rather than point to the potential. A miraculous exception to all of this was a tiny thirteen year old girl called Karen Muir who one day in Britain broke a world swimming record!

 

Griqua rugby had had its golden years way back near the turn of the century when their star player was a man named, Dobbin. Under his leadership and coaching, Griquas had been supreme. But those days were long forgotten by the subjugated rugby followers of my day. It was hardly enough for us to look at the old team photos of those invincible Griquas in their long shorts and faded jumpers, their handlebar moustaches adding to the impression of antiquity.

 

My link with Griqua Rugby was through my Father. He is a very shrewd judge of rugby talent and he had a way of seeing the game which was unique in its cool perception and apparent simplicity. In the Sixties he was one of the Board of Selectors for the senior Griqua Provincial rugby team.

 

Over a period of years, he contributed to a resurgence in Griqua rugby. They built a team around a retired Springbok centre named, Mannetjies Roux, who had become infamous for his tackle on Brian Sharp, a touring British Lion. In an early game of the tour, Mannetjies had crash-tackled Sharp, breaking his cheek bone and ending his international career! In my father’s view, THAT Mannetjies Roux was despicable.

 

But when the ageing bombshell of a man joined Griquas, they discovered that he was a true sporting genius. He could side-step past opponents and turn on a burst of speed that would leave them anchored helplessly in another dimension. This flaring rocket, having worked his mercurial magic, would pass the ball to a team mate, stop, turn and stroll, thick-legged and breathing, back to his half of the field and await the next opportunity to unleash this miracle.

 

Dominant, brutal and much-feared in South African rugby were the “Blue Bulls”: Northern Transvaal. Year after year they won the Currie Cup. Their pride and aggression derived from a hard-bitten Afrikaner background. Some say that the Transvaal Afrikaners are the toughest, having descended from those Voortrekkers who fought their way northwards through great adversity to be free from British rule.

 

In 1969 the Griqualand West rugby team fared well in the Currie Cup competition, coming in near the top of the log. The people of the territory were proud of their team’s performance and pleased that, at last, they had players like Piet Visagie and Jannie van Deventer, who had been chosen to play for the Springboks.

 

Once more, in 1970, Griquas fared well in the competition and their supporters, so used to defeat, were pleased not to be the last again. They were surprised, however, to find that by good play and the luck-of-the-draw Griquas were in the Currie Cup final against Northern Transvaal, The Blue Bulls (or even more sinister when you say it in Afrikaans, “Die Blou Bulle!”). Not only were they in the final, but it was to be played in Kimberley at the De Beers stadium.

 

When it was first built, heaven knows when, the De Beers Stadium must have been the envy of the whole country with its brick grandstand sheltered by corrugated iron, its cinder athletics track, its concrete velodrome, its massive scoreboard and its even, grassy playing surface. However, time, wear and tear and habitual neglect had not been kind to Kimberley’s premier sporting venue. It was dog-eared and just plain ugly. Of the scoreboard, the renowned cricket commentator, Charles Fortune, was once heard to say, “Do you know, the De Beers Stadium here in Kimberley must have the largest scoreboard in the country: with the least amount of information on it!”

 

And now the scene was set for the 18th of September and the Currie Cup final at the De Beers stadium.

 

For weeks before the final, our house had been abuzz with the background stories. My father was always on the phone to Ian Kirkpatrick, the coach, acting as a sounding board, a mentor and advisor. We heard the details of the team selection: Buddy Swartz, my schoolmate, was in; Hugh Calligan, the veteran Hooker was fit to play.

 

On that crisp winter Saturday, my lifelong friend, Ed Chantler, my brother Bruce and I walked across to the open stand and took up our seats on the top row.

 

During the schoolboy curtain-raiser, as we sat there, the OUTSPAN peaks shading our eyes from the winter sun, the grandstand opposite filled up. Our open stand filled up. And then the standing room areas began to bulge. The final whistle sounded for the schoolboys and the opposing teams strayed away to the dressing rooms shaking hands with one another.

 

Whatever happened, Griquas would give the Blue Bulls a go. It would be entertaining: a spectacle to remember. The result wouldn’t matter; the fact that the final was there was already an achievement.

 

Without warning the Northern Transvaal team burst out of the shade under the grandstand and ran into the sun looking formidable in their cornflower-blue jerseys and navy shorts. I was awestruck by the sight of the champion Frik Du Preez thundering onto the field with massive team mates such as Mof Myburg and Johann Spies. Amongst them too was the boxer, Gys Pitzer, who had downed a massive French lock forward with a single punch.

 

They exuded power and disdain as they took up their positions and shook their limbs to loosen up.

 

After a staged pause, the crowd gave a defiant partisan roar and Griquas streaked into the sunlight in their peacock blue jerseys hooped in narrow white bands. They were smaller, less imposing, but there was a look of indomitable willingness about them.

 

The referee held his hand up and gave a blast on his whistle, the ball flew high and the bodies clashed.

 

After ten minutes it was obvious that this was going to be a very tight game. The power of the Blue Bulls showed ominously as they were first to score from a penalty kick by Luther:

 

                               Northerns 3 – Griquas 0

 

And then, after some Mannetjies Roux magic, Buddy Swartz went over for a try on the wing. Piet Visagie, the Springbok flyhalf, converted and the crowd was cheering wildly!

 

                             Northerns 3 – Griquas 5

 

Ed, Bruce and I had come for the occasion. We yelled with the rest of them as the excitement began to grip. Griquas were ahead!

 

It was then that I saw a deliberate and nasty incident. Gys Pitzer, the mawling Northerns hooker, landed a vicious punch on the young Griqua lock, Jannie van Aswegen, knocking him out cold! The crowd was abusive with indignation.

 

I have seldom seen a more blatant ploy to intimidate and disable a plucky opposition. Van Aswegen was taken from the ground with apparent concussion and Griquas were a man short.

 

To hold such might with only fourteen men was not possible and before the half-time whistle sounded Frik du Preez had burst over for an unconverted try. Their strategy had worked!

 

                             Northerns 6 – Griquas 5

 

After half-time, we were surprised to see Van Aswegen run out to rejoin his team. The urging from the crowd was deafening as the whistle sounded for the start of the second half.

 

The game see-sawed back and forth, neither side seeming to dominate.

 

Halfway through the second half, the real drama began. A lineout formed up right in front of our stand. The ball was thrown in, the players went up and Lazarus, Jannie van Aswegen, felled the biggest of the Blues, the lock Spies, with a vengeful blow to the chin. As he lay there being revived by the St Johns first-aiders, the crowd in our stand celebrated the revenge with delighted taunts and jeers.

 

I had come for the spectacle, expecting good entertainment, but now I was becoming a part of it, losing my inhibitions, engaging in the battle. I was batling them too!

Spies was up again and the clash resumed.   Whether the punch was the cause cannot be said, but Buddy Swartz went over in the corner for a second Griqua try and we were all on our feet, hands in the air.

 

                             Northerns 6 – Griquas 8

 

Griquas were in the lead. The punchbag was going to win. The myth of David and Goliath was to be relived in the middle of nowhere at the De Beers stadium. Now I was shouting, giving vent to uninhibited parochialism, taunting the monsters. Only fifteen minutes remained. If the peacock blues could just hang on, there would be delirium!

 

Five minutes passed and not an inch was given willingly.

 

What we feared most was the knowledge that the fittest must inevitably survive. It was then that a Griqua player infringed and the shrillness of the referee’s whistle signalled a penalty against them!

 

Luther stepped forward, placed the ball on its mound. The crowd was silent. We uncrossed our legs. I imagined my mother, somewhere up in the VIP seats, drawing snakes to bring them bad luck!

 

He ran up and struck the ball with his massive boot. It flew and flew, followed by thousands of anguished eyes, between the goalposts!

 

                             Northerns 9 – Griquas 8

 

So that was the way it would end. Griquas, the also-rans, would do it again. They would live up to their reputation of years: coming second. I pictured us wandering home, not dissatisfied; the Griquas had made a game of it.

 

Five minutes to go and Griquas were trying their best to penetrate the Northern’s defences, but the tiring Bulls were holding onto their small lead grimly.

 

We were without hope when there was a piercing whistle and the referee awarded a penalty to Griquas in their own half. It was too far from the posts, too far to be kicked over!

 

There was a hush; what would the Griquas do?

 

After a pause, Mannetjies called the flanker, Peet Smith, and gave him the ball. Peet made the mound and placed the ball like a missile with its nose pointing at the posts. Then he paced back: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!

 

There was a pause. He seemed to scrutinize the distant cross-bar as though he’d not seen one before. Then he focused down at the ball!

 

As he launched into his deliberate run-up there was absolute silence.

The Northern Transvaal players stood dotted about their half of the field, hands on hips, tired, untidy, derisive.

 

In the crowd, some closed their eyes, some held their thumbs, some turned their heads, most stared at the scene not allowing themselves to hope.

 

Such fairy tales no longer happened in Kimberley, the city drained of vitality by this very opponent: Transvaal. The Griquas, those proud by-gone “Bastards”, no longer held sway in the Great Karroo. The De Beers stadium was old and not the place for a peacock to slay a bull!

 

I clenched my teeth and held my breath as Peet Smit struck the ball with all his might. It sailed and sailed, head over heels through the Karroo air for fifty five yards and just, cleared the cross-bar!

 

                                  Northerns 9 – Griquas 11

 

There was an explosion of shouting and cheering from the stadium that sent flights of pigeons into the air from the adjoining fields. They swirled overhead. It was euphoria. It was the joy of the underdog!

 

I had let go of myself completely; the twenty two thousand Griquas had fused into one triumphant soul, filled with primeval insanity, shouting and shouting for joy, taunting and deriding the broken blue opponents.

 

Our champions on the field had won the day for us!

 

I lost my voice that day, but I gained my tribe!

  

And that night, the Halfway House ran out of beer!