Cape Town – In the nicest possible way, I think we can say we returned a weekend bloody nose to New Zealanders.
South African rugby enthusiasts, and those partial to the Sharks in particular, were left mortified on Saturday by the margin and immensely superior quality of the Crusaders’ Super Rugby semi-final triumph over the Durban-based visitors.
The Sharks, considering the eternally unsatisfactory imbalance caused by further long-haul travel at such a late stage of the campaign, were always underdogs, but the 38-6 and five-tries-to-nil outcome just said so much about greater, tournament-long NZ enterprise and commitment to entertainment in a year where the SA conference was (unusually) the palpably worst and least dynamic of the trio.
That is why the BlitzBokke earning the Commonwealth Games gold medal just a day later, beating the very might of the All Black Sevens team in the Glasgow showpiece, was a tonic of special substance.
Yes, you can’t compare apples with potatoes – Sevens and XVs are vastly, deliberately different products – but there was a certain, heartening poignancy all the same to Kyle Brown’s heroes so deservingly grabbing the gold and with a joyousness that was etched all over their faces and their midst-of-battle mindsets.
The South Africans looked likeliest winners, courtesy of both their polish and calmness, all the way through the event, one of the television commentators from 50,000-packed, vibrant Ibrox noted afterwards.
Similarly BBC Sport enthused: “A South African side full of searing pace and no little skill trumped them (New Zealand) ... even managing to match the All Blacks physically.”
In short, this was good PR for rugby in our country as a whole, and at a rather necessary juncture.
Although you always get a festival-like, cosmopolitan and beery buzz at the major Sevens tournaments worldwide, the latest two days of combat in Scotland sent out a particularly powerful reminder of the value and importance of pure entertainment and adventurous spirit between the white lines in coaxing sports-lovers through turnstiles.
Super Rugby this season saw far too many tepid, unimaginative, mind-numbing fixtures involving SA sides – more acutely, when they played each other in now wretchedly over-subscribed derbies – and it was reflected in seriously dwindling attendances at Newlands and even Kings Park at times, despite the Sharks’ improvement by five places on their ordinary-season showing in 2013.
This was a wonderful, probably once-off occasion for our Sevens campaigners to put a quirkily different, yet hugely treasured laurel in their sporting awards cabinets.
Taking into account that it snapped a 16-year total monopoly of the gold by the New Zealanders, going back to the debut of Commonwealth Games Sevens at Kuala Lumpur 1998 only makes the fairytale for Frankie Horn, Seabelo Senatla, Cecil Afrika and company so much more pleasurable: it’s a stonking story for the grandchildren one day, that’s for sure.
Speaking of Kuala Lumpur, this Sevens success was right up there for cult status, if you like, with South Africa’s cricketers taking gold in the first – and still only – occasion in which the 50-overs game was contested at the Games.
That 1998 triumph of Shaun Pollock’s side still sparks pub quiz questions countrywide, especially when you recollect not only the triumph in the final over the Steve Waugh-heyday Australians, and the last-wicket stand of 35 between Alan Dawson and Nicky Boje to snatch the semi-final from under the expectant noses of Sri Lanka.
Something different captures imaginations, you see.
Super Rugby? Same old, same old ...
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