Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – With apologies for nicking the title of a U2
song, it’s a sort of homecoming for Luke Watson
on Saturday as he leads the
relegation-threatened Kings into Super Rugby derby battle with the Stormers at
It could be a reasonably tempestuous occasion ... and not
just because the arrival of a well-developed early winter cold front is tipped
to roughly coincide with this maiden all-Cape encounter (17:05 kick-off) in the
Watson’s likely return to the venue adds spice to the
occasion: one of the most controversial figures on the domestic rugby
landscape, the strong-willed 29-year-old will be setting foot anew on a ground
where he has played the majority (2005-2009) of his pretty well-travelled first-class
The reception he receives, it can probably be anticipated with
some safety, will be mixed -- even if unlikely to come close to the sort of universal
hostility he experienced in his first match at Loftus after the infamous Ubombo
Rugby Club speech in 2008, an occasion where he allegedly spoke of struggling
to resist the urge to “vomit on the Springbok jersey” and lamented South
African rugby administration being “rotten to the core” and run by “Dutchmen”.
The loose forward has mellowed to a good degree since then,
generally displaying a more conciliatory nature and simply getting stuck into
the business – sometimes in genuine lead-from-the-front fashion – of trying to
convince the southern hemisphere that newcomers the Kings belong in Super
Newlands has a culturally diverse rugby public, plus plenty
of enthusiasts simply prepared to doff their hats to decent players regardless
of their allegiance or heritage, and few could deny that Watson brings many
admirable qualities to the playing field specifically.
So if some hostility to his presence quickly becomes
apparent – and he must be fairly used to that phenomenon countrywide by now –
expect also no lack of warmth from sections of the terraces.
Port Elizabeth-born Watson’s tenure at the famous old ground
may have featured some of the biggest “flashpoint” moments of his career, but
it was also marked by his full-blooded contribution to periods where a Stormers
and WP revival in terms of trophy challenges occasionally flickered
The sometimes open-side flank, sometimes No 8 led the
franchise for generous periods of his Cape Town stint, and probably came
closest to giving them something to place in the cabinet in 2009, his swansong
season, when Province were pipped 21-19 in a thrilling Currie Cup home
semi-final by the Blue Bulls, Morne Steyn breaking local hearts with a
tricky-angled 77th-minute penalty to complete the scoring after
giant wing Sireli Naqelevuki’s critical mistake.
It was after that close call that Watson bade farewell to WP
Rugby (he had played more than 100 games for them across Super Rugby and Currie
Cup) and headed for his stint in the English Premiership with Bath.
During his years at Newlands, Watson also produced some of
the best personal rugby of his career thus far: in 2006 for instance, he was
named South African Super 14 player of the year, with some statistics showing
him to be the second most effective fetcher in the competition behind All Black
icon Richie McCaw.
That season, the Stormers also had respected, established
Springboks Joe van Niekerk and Schalk Burger among their assets at loose
Watson’s last match at Newlands, that Currie Cup semi in
2009, saw him in starting alliance with Francois Louw (who coincidentally now
plays for Bath) and the currently injured Duane Vermeulen, who operated at blindside
flank then with Watson as eighth-man.
He was also very much a WP representative in 2007, when he
made his much-publicised Bok debut against Samoa, despite known acrimony with
national coach Jake White who had not wanted him anywhere near his plans, and
refusal by established senior players to properly initiate him to the fold.
While in Cape Town, Watson’s club allegiance was to SK
Walmers, a side from the pre-unity non-racial fold, whose ranks had once
famously welcomed an earlier generation of the Watson family.
So symbolism will not
be in short supply when Luke Asher Watson runs onto a likely soggy Newlands on
Saturday ... even if, to this unavoidably divisive yet determinedly “driven” character,
it could almost be said to be just another day at the rugby office.
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