They’re still our boys

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­ Fol­low me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

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.

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