The head isn't writing off Crusaders
It has been hard to wipe the smile off my face over the past few days, and people who see me probably think I am either a Cheshire cat, or that I have acquired a taste for Cheshire cats and have just eaten one.
Let’s start with the Proteas. The national cricket team is something I can be fanatical about because I don’t write about cricket. There is none of that neutrality or objectivity stuff that comes into my watching of rugby, which is my job. Having been in the United Kingdom, and witnessing first-hand the fuss the English Press was making of their team, in the two weeks building up to the Oval test, these past five days were hugely satisfying.
So was Ernie Els’s great win at The Open, although I was so engrossed in the cricket that I had to hear it from Ian Botham, unlike a few years ago, when I gnawed my fingers to the bone on behalf of Louis Oosthuizen. The point being though that Ernie added some width to a smile that might challenge the one that Victor Matfield produced for the purposes of fulfilling his obligations to a toothpaste company.
And of course then there was the rugby. Yes, objectivity and neutrality is important, and I did study journalism at a good university, so I know that better than most of the people who vent their frustrations in internet talk-back forums and in other avenues of social media.
I was asked during a radio interview recently how I reacted to what people said about me in the internet forums and in SMS feedback columns (newspapers). My response was that I was unaware of what was said because I don’t read it. My job is to write it as I see it, and if people have a problem with my view…well, it’s their problem, not mine, and when they express unhappiness with something I have said it means at least they are reading it.
I also said I fully understood that I was writing about a sport which perhaps a long time ago I started to become a bit desensitised to in the sense that seasons flow into one another. The people that react with such vehemence through internet forums etc are just a lot more fanatical than I am, and that is good. You need the fanatics if the sport is going to pay the bills.
The bottom line is that, maybe partly because it is my job, rugby is just a sport and not some kind of quasi-religion. I doubt I could get as worked up during a rugby match as I did on Monday afternoon when Bell and Prior were threatening to hold up the Proteas’ drive for victory. In fact, I turned off the television for an hour because I couldn’t take the tension.
Having said all that, because sport is just sport, even the intellectuals in the journalism department at Rhodes University would probably agree with me that there are times when a sportswriter should be allowed to get carried away in the moment, like myself and colleague Brenden Nell did when we were so emotional after Bryce Lawrence’s brain fart in Wellington last October.
That though is not the same as saying patriotism should rule – it irritates me when a commentator or journalist is asked a question and he/she answers “Well I am South African so I have to go with the South Africans”. If that is the case then there really is no point in asking the question, and I have always said that if any of my employers want me to be a cheerleader, then they need to buy me a short skirt and some pom-poms.
But when you work with people closely it is also hard not to empathise with them and feel for them through the good and the bad times. After years of writing about the Stormers when they were so poor that usually they had no interest in the destination of the Super Rugby trophy after the Easter weekend, it has been great to see them being so much more competitive in recent years.
And as someone who spent the first two and a half decades of life being reared on Durban Perks Pies, not to mention the odd bunny chow and samoosa, there is also a natural affinity for the Sharks.
So it goes without saying that the Sharks' win over the Reds also had a part to play in all the gum and teeth that has been advertised over the past few days. The sun would definitely still have risen for me this past Sunday had they lost, but the Sharks win does at least mean that whatever happens on Saturday at Newlands, I will have a Super Rugby final to write about and cover next week, as the Stormers and Sharks are the teams I cover for Supersport.com.
But here is the problem – now that I have admitted that if I had a heart it would be with the Stormers and Sharks, the dispassionate part of me has a nagging feeling that the results this past weekend played into the hands of the Crusaders.
Even though they appeared to be playing within themselves against the Bulls, they were pretty awesome, and before this past weekend the one mitigating factor against them winning the competition was that they might have to go to Cape Town for a semifinal and then back to Brisbane. They don’t have to do that now, and may even be able to stay in New Zealand for the duration of the knockouts.
That is a far cry from last year, when they were eventually beaten more by the travel schedule than they were by the Reds. They know they can win a one-off at Newlands if they have to go there for a decider, and it’s why my head isn’t getting too carried away about the prospect of the Stormers or Sharks breaking their trophy duck in this competition.