They’re still our boys
Abig break came my way in late 1977 while covering the South African Open golf championship at the Royal Johannesburg golf course.
A scruffy-looking bloke sidled up to me in the press marquee and asked if we could have a chat.
Appearances can be deceiving, as he turned to be Brian Ross-Adams, the then sports editor of The Rand Daily Mail.
“How would you like to be the rugby writer of the Mail?” asked Ross-Adams.
“I’d love to be the rugby writer on the Mail,” answered I.
At the time, I was writing about athletics and golf, and much else, for The Argus in Cape Town, but the newspaper’s rugby man was one of my mentors, the esteemed AC Parker.
One of the big “beats” was too good an offer to turn down, and what a ride rugby writing has turned out to be.
Before moving to Johannesburg, I contacted Morné du Plessis, the much-respected Western Province and Springbok captain, for advice on how to approach the new job.
One of the things Du Plessis told me has remained in my mind ever since.
“Remember, no player ever goes on to the field and tries to do badly,” was his sage advice.
Morné’s words came back to me over these past few days, in view of my quite negative assessment of the imperfect (to my mind) Springbok team Heyneke Meyer selected to try to win the World Cup in England.
In a few days, they’ll board the plane, young men on a wonderful adventure, and, on Saturday, September 19, with what should be a reasonably easy first step against Japan, they’ll start a journey every one of them will hope will end with victory in the final on October 31.
Some, especially captain Jean de Villiers and loose forward Schalk Burger, have had to dip deep into the well of human resolve to get there, and a number of others will be hoping their battered bodies hold up.
But the one thing you know is that, when they pull on the green-and-gold jersey, every one of them will strain every sinew, ignore complaining muscles and go beyond burning lungs to try to secure that all-important victory.
That will be their collective determination. Old-stagers such as Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez will be expected to be calm in the face of fire and provide leadership.
Youngsters such as Rudy Paige, Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard and Damian de Allende will want to make the most of every chance they are given.
They will be aware of dispatches from home, inundated with wishes of support and doubtless as nervous as teenagers writing matric exams, but their goal will be to do it for South Africa.
Equally so for coach Meyer. He has made mistakes and I, for one, think he has got a number of things wrong – but you must know that all he wants is for his team to win the Webb Ellis Cup.
In the end, and although I have stated (in last week’s Mind Games) that they are probably not going to make it, they are our boys, playing for our national honour.
Perhaps it is time to shift aside whatever dissatisfaction – perhaps even anger – we feel, and get behind them.