Rob Houwing

Teary weekend for Bulls fans

2011-11-25 08:26
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column

There will be dual reason for supporters of the Blue Bulls - and also many Springbok enthusiasts, of course - to feel a little down in the dumps this weekend, but for slightly different reasons emotionally.

South African-related rugby makes a surprisingly strong return to SuperSport transmission this weekend after the inevitable early-summer lull, with the big live attraction being the Barbarians’ match at Twickenham against Australia.

The occasion is Loftus legend Victor Matfield’s fitting farewell to competitive rugby and the Pretoria faithful will probably find it hard to believe it’s all come to an end as he leaps into the stratosphere just a few more times (here’s hoping he quickly finds some synergy with seasoned All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu) in his capacity as second-rower and captain of the Baabaas.

I first set eyes on Matfield as he stooped to get out of a smallish hotel lift at a Cats pre-season camp alongside the Vaal River in 1999, and he was a 21-year-old rookie fringe member of the then-Super 12 squad – significantly more senior locks at the time included Johan Ackermann and Jannes Labuschagne.

I had to ask one of the more senior players I was interviewing who he was, especially because I had only just returned from several years’ employment outside South Africa - little did I know then that Matfield would go on to become arguably the finest lineout specialist of all time!

Big Vic’s send-off gets full treatment on SuperSport on Saturday (see below for more extended details) but not long before it is a poignant rugby offering of a slightly different kind ... and squarely focussed on another doyen of the Blue Bulls’ corral.

It is a recording of the benefit dinner held for scrumhalf great Joost van der Westhuizen earlier this week, which raised more than R1 million for his foundation supporting sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease. He, of course, has an incurable form of it.

The function was attended by many of Van der Westhuizen’s old Bok colleagues, with involvement also from other revered No 9s like Justin Marshall and George Gregan.

The first screening is at 14:20 (M-Net and CSN) on Saturday, and it repeats on CSN and SS1 at 21:00, plus in some Sunday slots.

Joost fell out of favour with SuperSport at one point after certain personal indiscretions became public, but I’m happy that bigger-picture good sense and compassion has seemed to prevail here ...  

Rob’s Awesome Foursome:

1. Sevens World Series rugby
Gold Coast, Friday & Saturday 03:45, SS1, CSN & some M-Net

It would be wonderful if the BlitzBokke could arrive for the third leg of the HSBC Sevens circuit in early December – at the new host venue of Port Elizabeth – on a strong head of steam from the Aussie and United Arab Emirates tournaments. After all, last season they ended their campaign rather better than they began it, so will hopefully be quicker out of the blocks this time. It all starts on the Gold Coast this weekend: by the time you read this Paul Treu’s charges will have already played the United States (06:47), but you might catch their action against Japan (09:53) and then Australia (13:36). The Cup final is set down for 12:05 on Saturday. Touch wood, we’ll be in it. 

2. Knights v Titans, 1-Day Cup cricket
Kimberley, Friday 15:00, SS2 & CSN

The big question on domestic cricket fans’ minds ahead of matches in the 1-Day Cup this year has tended to be: “But will there be any play?” I have good news on that score: this match-up in Kimberley will supposedly take place in pleasantly warm conditions with a zero percent chance of rain, according to the SA Weather Service when I last looked. Host the Knights are slightly better placed to reach the KO stage, presently in fourth spot and only three points shy of the rain-jinxed Dolphins, although the Titans one spot below them are not completely out of the picture. With some Proteas players making welcome appearances for franchises now, intensities should crank up a healthy notch.

3. Barbarians v Australia, international rugby
London, Saturday 16:30, M-Net, SS1 & SHD

BaaBaas games are always a pleasure to watch because you don’t really have to chew your nails to pieces ... unless you are REALLY desperate for the Wallabies’ wings to be clipped! Expect the traditional free-spirited approach to the game, however - especially as the Aussies (to be led for the first time by that destructive fetcher David Pocock) have named the slippery, versatile James O’Connor at flyhalf. Although this is primarily Victor Matfield’s swansong party, it will be interesting to see whether compatriot Bryan Habana is able to revel in rare amounts of time and space out wide at Twickers ...

4. Liverpool v Manchester City, English Premiership soccer
Liverpool, Sunday 18:00, SS3, Maximo & SHD3

Good game, coming at a good time ... that’s one way for neutrals to contemplate this match of the weekend in the Premiership, ideal for that Sunday sundowner in front of the box. I say good time because although City - near-runaway leaders at present and now the only unbeaten team after cutting Newcastle (aargh) down to size -- will probably be slightly favoured, Liverpool take them on at Anfield in pretty good current fettle themselves. Kenny Dalglish’s side come off a heartening 2-1 victory at Chelsea last weekend to lift them back into the top six and, following City’s footsore exertions in a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, may just feel they’re in with a mini-upset chance. My tip is a hard-fought 1-1 result.

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