South Africans are among the heaviest drinkers in the world in terms of both body weight and quantities consumed. We’re not quite top of the log yet, but the Rugby World Cup is pushing us closer to Zimbabwe’s heroic levels of abuse. I’m starting to think rugby is unwatchable sober. Has it ever been tried?
None of my family showed any interest in rugby while I was growing up. The only events my father took me to as a kid were stock car racing and wrestling. Fast cars and violence. People smashing into each other. That was my introduction to the world of sports.
I managed to avoid rugby at school and, miraculously, in the army. Instead, I played tennis. It seemed more sensible to do a sport that didn’t involve the possibility of broken bones and brain damage. Never mind ending up with cauliflower florets for ears.
Speaking of blunt trauma, I have watched the odd rugby match over the years. You can’t spend as much time in bars as I do and not have a game splayed across a screen bolted to the ceiling beyond the reach of drunks, thieves and sociopaths.
I think what put me off the game back then, was the referee blowing his whistle every four seconds. Not understanding the rules made it so much worse. For me, not the referee. That’s why I enjoyed the opener against France and New Zealand. Jaco Peyper barely used his whistle. With his South African instinct for turning a blind eye to transgressions, the game flowed nicely.
And while I remain ambivalent towards rugby, there’s something about a World Cup that snags my attention. As a kid, I would dream of one day being the best in the world at something. Whatever it was, it would have to take minimal effort and pay handsomely. It was more the adoration of massive crowds I was after. I like to think I might still have a shot. Not as an individual, obviously. That ship has sailed. But if I can join a team that’s very, very good at something, and I can sort of hang around at the back, then maybe. Just maybe.
Loadshedding kicked in as the opening ceremony began. Once I had bought a handful of data and worn myself out cursing the ANC for breaking my country, I returned just in time to feel as if I was in a street in Paris. Several streets. All at once. On acid. It was like watching a nouvelle vague production made up of dream sequences cobbled together from low-budget art films and randomly spliced together with confusing music and garbled narration.
The Kiwis put on a spirited haka but the cheese-eating surrender monkeys looked unimpressed. Then again, the French only have two facial expressions, the other being a mouth-shrug. As it turned out, New Zealand was exhausted after their haka and France won, despite having a red chicken on their shirts. Then again, our new shirts are the fashion equivalent of shining a strobe light into an epileptic’s face.
I also watched a bit of Italy versus Namibia, but only because I was once trapped for 10 years in the hellhole that is Windhoek and needed closure. Schadenfreude, too. Even though some of their players are built like Springboks, they are clearly Afrikaners lite because they lost by 44 points. That’s what happens when you’re fed Jägermeister as an infant. Namibia play New Zealand on Friday. They’ll probably win.
I’ve noticed there is still way too much blowing of whistles. And apart from being a complete waste of time, scrums are deeply weird. Have you seen what goes on in there? Men have their heads wedged between other men’s thighs. During one of the roughly 847 scrums I watched in one game, the ref shouted, “Get ya bum in!” What? There are children watching at home. Let’s keep it clean.
When the Boks played Scotland, I chose to watch at home on my own. A swivel-eyed loner sitting in the corner drinking heavily, taking notes and yelling incoherently every time there’s a scrum makes people nervous. You need to be among friends at the pub. Strangers might take offence if I hugged them every time someone scored. Especially if I shouted, “Get ya bum in!”
I was very proud that the Boks were the first team to start throwing punches. There’s nothing like Eben Etzebeth grinning at the prospect of a bit of violence to scare the opposition.
I see there have been nasty remarks made about the bomb squad, who aren’t so much rugby players as they are human dolosse. Or, as former Welsh player Alix Popham put it, “seven huge mutants”. Ainsley Hay once said, “A white springbok will not contribute to the springbok population because it’s a mutant.” Then again, she was with the Wildlife Protection Unit of the NSPCA at the time.
I felt proudly South African after the game. Then I read the Sunday papers and went back to being ashamed.