Johannesburg - Thanks to doing a commemorative story about this Friday being 10 years since the Springboks won the 2007 Rugby World Cup, this week has been something of a trip down memory lane.
Having spent seven weeks in France covering that tournament, a typical rugby hack’s memories flooded back.
There were the media drinks with the Bok team management before the semifinal against Argentina; my tempting fate by asking Bok captain John Smit to list five things which contributed to their winning the World Cup before the final; and mock scrumming down with a tipsy Os du Randt in the Bok’s team room at 04:00 after they’d won the tournament.
There’s something nostalgic about World Cups, and few nations (except maybe England and 1966) have taken that longing for the past to heart as much as South Africans have.
If you think rugby’s Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela will always feature; in cricket Lance Klusener and Allan Donald will always be in our hearts; and most of us know where we were when “Shabba” (Siphiwe Tshabalala) monstered that goal against Mexico.
The catch is we’re a little addicted to the giddy feeling that is engendered by the vastness and supposed momentousness of World Cups.
When it comes to the quadrennial stuff, we’re no better than a druggie impatiently awaiting their next hit.
Lack of consistency
Regular seasons can become mundane, with fans only getting themselves up for key fixtures like the All Blacks (rugby), the Aussies or the Poms (cricket) and Nigeria (soccer).
Coaches don’t want to be judged on any given Saturday...they buy time by demanding that they be judged on World Cups.
This is the perfect recipe for the lack of consistency in performance that generally bedevils South African sport.
Because we hanker after the intoxication of what might be if one of our teams wins a World Cup, we almost end up shelving what needs to be done in favour of waiting for the big one. In a way, the early post-isolation successes of the three main codes – the cricketers going to the semifinals in their first World Cup in 1992, the rugby players winning theirs at first attempt in 1995, and Bafana Bafana winning their debut Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 – is to blame.
Frittered it away
Suddenly a country that had been out in the sporting cold for so long thought all it took was an abundance of talent, Madiba Magic and simply turning up to win big tournaments.
Had success been delayed maybe we would have learnt the value of putting structures in place for sustained success.
As a result, instead of building on the goodwill created by the two Rugby World Cups South Africa has won, we have frittered it all away.
The 1995 World Cup was supposed to have unified us as a nation, but with the exception of the Bok players I see no evidence of this unity anywhere else.
Like all nations, South Africans love a winner, but when a team struggles like the Boks have over the past two seasons we all turn on one another, usually along racial lines.
Stifling the pipeline
The 2007 win – by possibly the best ever Bok team – should not only have laid the foundation for world domination, it should have been an All Blacks-esque blueprint to stay a few steps ahead of the rest of the world.
But we hung on to that team for a staggering two more World Cups, which in a way was as responsible as the overseas clubs and the weakening rand in stifling the pipeline of new talent to the Bok team.
With SA Rugby one of the three nations hoping to be announced as the 2023 Rugby World Cup hosts in November, the giddiness of being part of something supposedly bigger than ourselves will grip us again.
Ignoring the overpromising they’ve done on taxpayers’ money and the fact that SA Rugby needs the money, would it be too much to hope that if they do get the right to host it they will try to harness the wasted legacies of the 1995 and 2007 World Cups?
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