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Something strange under Newlands lights

If there were such a person, it would be interesting to engage in conversation with someone who followed rugby closely up to two years ago and then went into exile in the meantime and had no contact with the sport.

After this past Saturday’s big derby at Newlands the conversation might have been similar to the one that Naas Botha had with the then Sunday Times sports editor Edward Griffiths in 1991. Botha, captain of the Northern Transvaal team that was beaten by Natal in the 1990 Currie Cup final, was still away playing in Italy when his side went to Durban to try and avenge that defeat early the following season.

He relied on Griffiths to inform him of what happened in the game, and Griffiths related in his newspaper column the following week how the conversation went.

Botha: “So how did the game go?”

Griffiths: “It was unbelievable. They won 54-15.”

Botha: “Shew! I really didn’t think we would win so easily.”

Griffiths: “The Bulls didn’t win, it was Natal who won!”

After the Stormers beat the Bulls in a brutal but utterly pulsating and absorbing match at Newlands which lived up to every bit of hype in terms of atmosphere and excitement, my conversation with someone returning from an extra-terrestrial holiday might have gone something like this.

Me: “The Bulls and the Stormers played this past weekend. It was quite a game. The winners won because their forwards dominated their opponents physically in the first half and effectively strangled them, but the other guys were able to survive on scraps and in the second half they came back to score two tries before eventually losing to a penalty kick.”

ET visitor: “Hah, I am glad to hear that one thing hasn’t changed. It’s always been like that between WP and the Bulls. The Bulls smash them at forward but the WP backs are more inventive so they find a way to make the game competitive. But a good little one never beats a good big one and the pressure always tells in the end. I suppose Morne Steyn kicked the winning goal?”

Me: “No, it wasn’t Morne, it was Peter Grant. And the Stormers won. It was they who dominated the forward battle and squeezed the Bulls out of the game. They smashed the Bulls physically, but the Bulls got a breakaway try where they recovered from a defensive situation to hack the ball through and beat the Stormers defence through sheer pace.”

ET visitor: “Okay, so there is another thing that hasn’t changed, you are still an idiot who is full of sh**. Why can’t you just be serious for once? I suppose the next thing you will tell me is that the Bulls weren’t wearing blue but were dressed in pink…”

Actually, there was something else that completed the stunning role reversal that has happened over the past two seasons that I wouldn’t bother to tell someone who has been on a space holiday for fear that he/she tries to have me committed. After the game, as Newlands emptied out, I overheard a cellphone conversation that someone, obviously a Bulls supporter, was having with a friend.

“Ja, you guys were damn lucky. It was close hey? We might have won had we had a decent goalkicker…”

Later in the evening there were conversations with Stormers fans who echoed sentiments that were sort of similar. They went along the lines of “Yes, we won, but boy, it was close, and we nearly threw that one away”.

Those conversations would have been as bizarre two years ago as the scene would have been to any rugby lover returning from a 24-month exile – the Stormers did indeed go into the game as favourites, at least in my book they did, and as a result of that some demanding fans behaved as if they expected even more of their team. And yet back in time just a win, any win, over the Bulls would have been enough reason for the citizens of Cape Town to paint Table Mountain … well, paint it pink…

Those were the days when the Stormers always got beaten by the Bulls because they couldn’t live with the Pretoria team’s physicality. Yet here we are in 2012 and the Stormers are going into games against the Bulls as favourites based on their perceived forward superiority and you get the impression that it’s the Bulls who are having to dig deep just to stay in the game.

The Stormers are going to have to work on their kicking game and their finishing if they want to maintain the trend when they go to Pretoria in June. In the meantime though let’s just say that some damn strange things have been happening under the Newlands floodlights.

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