Rob Houwing

Empty seats for Boks, Bafana?

2013-08-16 09:51
Rob Houwing (File)
Pardon my mild cynicism, but I do wonder whether the first-time appearance on the same stadium bill of our national soccer and rugby teams will match the hype understandably being generated by all those marketing it.

Saturday’s Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day is an admirable initiative in principle, that can’t be doubted, and I certainly also don’t wish to prematurely write it off.

There will be deserved egg (not my favourite food) all over my face, too, if the double-header does lure the near-capacity crowd of 90 000 some publicists have been boasting will flock through the gates of that formidable FNB Stadium calabash.

My own suspicion is that the attendance may fall well short of that, although with saturation coverage of the day’s multi-pronged events on both national broadcaster the SABC (their coverage of the Boks v Pumas game delayed, note) and subscription-service SuperSport, television viewership ought to be suitably more robust – mid-winter couch curiosity can be a strong lure in experimental instances like this.

The nagging fear I have over the live turnout is based around several factors: just one is the Durban soccer precursor on Wednesday, where a notably poor crowd made the pilgrimage – despite Bafana captain Itumeleng Khune’s public appeal for a full house at Moses Mabhida Stadium – for the annual Mandela Challenge, against Afcon champions Nigeria.

Especially with the host nation crashing to a slightly depressing 0-2 defeat, I feel it begs the question of why the visit of Burkina Faso – less glamorous than the Super Eagles, and certainly with fewer SA-based expats to roar them on -- would suddenly attract a more swollen gate on the Highveld right now?

Bear in mind a couple of other footballing drawbacks: the Bafana side will be even less fully-staffed than it was in Durban, given that overseas-based players like Tokelo Rantie and Dean Furman will be unavailable this time, plus fans of Soweto giants Orlando Pirates are far more likely to visit nearby Orlando Stadium on Saturday night for the key CAF Champions League clash with Zamalek than pay two bouts of ticket fees in the space of a few hours by going to the Bafana/Boks 'spectacular' as well.

As for the rugby side of things, Argentina, for all their gradually increasing virtues, do remain pretty obvious 'fourth element' in the Rugby Championship, and didn’t even fill much smaller Newlands, if memory serves me correctly, for their debut in the competition in 2012.

Given the logistical requirements in staging internationals requiring rather different line markings and the like, there is also going to be a fair delay between the Bafana (13:30) and Bok (17:00) matches ... slightly reducing the crossover appeal, I think.

I am also not sure about SuperSport’s creative touch – I am a tad more inclined to label it gimmicky – in getting soccer personality Mark Fish to join the analysis panel on the Bok Test and rugby icon Naas Botha to dissect Bafana for a change.

When you need a plumber, after all, you wouldn’t necessarily dial a painter.

Still, maybe all my party-pooping thoughts will prove lamentably ill-founded ... and I do hope that is the case.

Rob’s Awesome Foursome:

1. South Africa v Argentina, Castle Rugby Championship
Johannesburg, Saturday 17:00, M-Net, SS1, SHD (SABC2 delayed, 18:30)

The pretty traditional Highveld firm of Hugh Bladen and Joel Stransky handle English SuperSport commentary for the Boks’ first Championship Test of the season, with Afrikaans in the hands of John van Rensburg and Toks van der Linde and the Xhosa duties performed by Lonwabo Mtimka and Kaya Malotana.

The afore-mentioned presence of ex-Bafana stalwart Mark Fish as a temporary rugby pundit doesn’t mean a week off, thank goodness, for ever-forthright Nick Mallett in the studio, where Xola Ntshinga anchors.

By the way, the absence of that excellent pro Hennie Koortzen from the Afrikaans rugby microphone this week is only because he will do a first-time calling in his home language of the Bafana game, a welcome development.    

2. South Africa v Burkina Faso, international soccer friendly
Johannesburg, Saturday 13:30, SABC1, SS4, SHD4

So, Bafana found a faster, more muscular and more composed Nigeria too hot to handle on Wednesday ... what price a rather more palatable result against the runners-up to the Super Eagles in the 2013 SA-hosted Africa Cup of Nations?

I am hearing worrisome reports already that Burkina Faso, like the Nigerians earlier in the week, will put out a slightly 'experimental' line-up for this friendly, so maybe there will be reason for some overdue home-town smiles afterwards.

Mind you, stripped of their Pirates players and one or two of their campaigners from abroad, Gordon Igesund’s troops will carry an ongoing hint of vulnerability as well, so what will happen in the early international of the double-header is anybody’s guess ...    

3. Australia v New Zealand, Castle Rugby Championship'
Sydney, Saturday 12:05, SS1, SHD

Let’s not forget that there’s still a full round of Currie Cup activity on this busy rugby weekend, with Saturday’s slightly late, post-Boks 19:15 kick-off between champions WP and the Cheetahs at Newlands probably the pick of the bunch.

But heaps of SA enthusiasts will certainly be tuning in to the huge Championship-plus-Bledisloe-Cup encounter between the Wallabies and All Blacks much earlier in the day.

I’m a little reluctant to back a home win, though Oz may well hope to catch the world champs 'cold' at the outset of the competition.

Remember that the hosts have been hardened by a Lions series, even though they surrendered that 2-1.

I reckon the ever-wily, though Dan Carter-less visitors will do just enough to get over the line, by around three or four points.

4. Swansea v Manchester United, English Premiership soccer
Swansea, Saturday 18:30, SS3, SHD3, Maximo

After the usual dose of half-baked pre-season friendlies (in the case of the Red Devils, a now traditional globe-trot as they work on spreading the 'brand' gospel) we’re finally back to the real deal as the 2013/14 Premiership begins.

The champions’ start is hardly the easiest, with last season’s highly competitive, ninth-placed Swansea lying in wait for them in Wales – the corresponding result in the last campaign saw them earn a fighting 1-1 draw.

It is an early test for the credentials of David Moyes as United get down to life without Alex Ferguson firmly calling the shots for the first time in decades.

They’ll do quite well to bag all three points.


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