Springboks v All Blacks

Last weekend I went to see my first ever rugby match…And I think in terms of quality, I started pretty much at the top.

The infamous South Africa v New Zealand match was to take place at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, so Tom and I boarded our 6am flight from Cape Town and were met on the plane by countless other green (and black) clad fans on their way to see the big clash.

In terms of rugby, the SA v NZ game is the only one that has ever really registered in my mind… and watching the match live was definitely on my “bucket list”.  In particular, I was so excited to see the Haka “dance”, feared by all rugby players, I wanted to experience it for myself.

However, things were not to be simple that day, as we had to pick up our tickets in Johannesburg.  Dropped at a participating store by our taxi driver, we found ourselves very alone in the “Hillbrow” area of Johannesburg – a teeming, hectic, very busy, run-down neighbourhood, where our white faces very much stood out and drew lots of attention.

We stood in the queue to the ticket desk (which also served as the local mobile money desk) for an hour, with hawkers trying to sell us their products and services (including the offer to stand in the queue for us), and were jostled and pushed about while we watched the crazy world dancing past in Hillbrow.  Literally.  From weddings, to processions, to peaceful protests – everything passed us along the street while we waited.. music pumping from big float-trucks, people dancing their way along the street.

We eventually gave up, and got ourselves to a different store (in a more organised mall), where we got our tickets in no time at all.

We had planned  to go to the ground an hour before kick-off, but a passing Springbok fan in our hotel quickly told us otherwise, so we went out to the grounds 4 hours before the match, and were met by a full-blown beer festival inside the grounds.

From beer tents, to food stalls, to stage with live music, there was everything there to please the sea of green-clad bodies covered in face paint and swigging Castle beer.  Sitting in the sunshine drinking beers, we were slightly dazed by the atmosphere which we did not expect.

Soon it was time to go into the match, and we all piled into the stadium and found our seats.  The crowd was buzzing as the teams walked out onto the field and the New Zealanders sang their national anthem.

Next up, however, came the South African anthem, and our next big shock of the day.  Four verses, four languages, EVERY SINGLE PERSON singing.  The sheer volume and heartfelt manner of the South African national song blasted out by 60,000 people was truly awesome, and Tom and I did our very best to sing along to the words in multiple languages.

Next came the Haka, what I had been waiting for.  But what an anti-climax.  Rather than the fearsome warrior dance that I was expecting, the South African crowd jeered and laughed and sang, completely filtering away any threat, turning the NZ team into a crew of boys dancing around on the field.

And then the match was started.  Despite not understanding too much about rugby, the game was intensely exciting, and the crowd went crazy with every tackle, scrum, and try by both teams (see…I learnt some rugby words).  I have never felt so exhilarated, excited, disappointed, proud… just because of a sports match.

We lost, badly, but the Springboks fans went down supporting, celebrating, proud till the end… and I will never forget the insane atmosphere of that day.

What a life experience.  What an eye-opener.

Am I a rugby fan now?  Hell yes.  A Springboks fan?  Forever.