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Rugby | Springboks

Matthew Pearce © Gallo Images

Matt's Bok tour diary: Week 2

November 16

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any bleaker after the woes of Dublin, we arrived in Paris on a dark Sunday afternoon to be greeted by an intense sleet storm at Charles de Gaulle airport, fortunately just after touching down.

That caused heavier than usual traffic into the city for a Sunday evening and, using a maxi taxi to transport all the TV gear and luggage to the hotel took over an hour and what seemed like the GDP of a small African country to pay for it!

A quick summary of what some of the basics cost in the French capital is a pretty scary exercise for a lowly South African travelling on the Rand. Without going into too much detail, a cappuccino in any of the quaint, typically Parisian cafes within walking distance of the team hotel will set you back on average 5.50 Euros, which was just about R92 on Sunday but became more expensive following a resignation in Treasury!


Pat Lambie, the most recent South African signing to Racing 92, popped past the hotel to greet former teammates and has clearly adjusted well to life in Paris. When I asked him about the language challenges, he said he has “tried really hard” and is making steady progress, although the pace at which people speak can be problematic.

“Our coaches speak virtually no English, so you simply have to learn quickly,” he says. “But at least I have a bit of an excuse if I mess the odd thing up at training…I just apologise and say in French that I didn’t understand!”


Tuesday’s Springbok training session brought a barrage of South African spectators in the colours of Stade Francais, as they arrived for their video session followed by field training on the same ground the Boks were using. No fewer than six – Morne Steyn, Willem Alberts, Guthro Steenkamp, Craig Burden, Heinke van der Merwe and Charl McLeod – were in attendance, a stark reminder of the constant stream of South African talent to the north.

Both Alberts and Steyn arrived on scooters, their practical way of navigating the horrific Paris traffic, and it did not go unnoticed that Willem’s was one of those with two wheels at front for stability. Precious cargo, after all!


Tuesday evening dinner at a delightful bistro near to the Eiffel Tower, chosen for its online reviews as having some of the best cassoulet – a marvellous casserole of sausage, duck and beans – in Paris.

In among so much of the negativity being thrown around about South Africa in general at the moment, how heartening to have one of the waiters recognise our accents and take some time out to come and tell us about his two-week holiday in South Africa, from which he returned just ten days ago. “Magnifique,” he declared. “The most beautiful country and the best two weeks of my life.”


Monsieur Eiffel’s design has not only become symbolic of Paris but also the subject of mass-produced souvenirs of dubious quality, relentlessly peddled by hawkers around the structure. The night before their day off, some Boks and management ate at a restaurant overlooking the tower, owned by the great-great granddaughter of the designer himself, she and her husband both massive rugby fans.

Fortunately the players were spared witnessing the incident we did of police screeching to a halt and firing teargas into a group of ‘hawkers’ who were clearly viewed as suspicious and a threat to bystanders and tourists. This is tangibly a city on edge…


There was more evidence of tension on a quick visit to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur before jumping on the Metro to walk around the iconic cathedral of Notre Dame. I can honestly say that I have never been as close to as many automatic weapons in my life.

In the quaint square at Montmartre, where artists produce their caricatures for passers-by and cafes surround the perimetre, four soldiers – all heavily armed – did their laps, while in order to enter the Sacre Coeur to light a candle and offer a prayer, you need to pass through the metal detectors. Down at Notre Dame, more military personnel and more guns outside a monument to symbolise peace.


Needless to say, Paris was not the greatest place for a South African to be as the announcement was made that France had been awarded hosting rights to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

There were no more infuriating images than the hugging and back-slapping of World Rugby Council members by Bernard Laporte in victory, just two weeks after he had described the bid evaluation report as nonsense and World Rugby as incompetent.

Clearly he saw no such flaw in the secret ballot voting process… Saturday’s match just got handed an extra dose of spice.


November 13

One thing on which it is impossible to fault the Irish is their sense of humour across many different situations.

When going to collect accreditation for the test match at the Aviva Stadium, the SuperSport crew enquired as to whether it would be possible to “secure a position behind the poles” for our cameraman. His response: “Well now, the only poles I know of come from Poland… but if you would be wanting a position behind the posts, I will see what I can do!”

Getting in on the amateur comedy scene was the proprietor of a local bistro I had chosen with an Irish broadcaster for a quick lunch.

The temperature had dropped markedly over the previous half hour, so a hearty bowl of soup seemed to be a good idea. The menu referred to a ‘Soup of the Day’ and so, before being seated, I enquired as to what the day’s special was. “Leek and potato,” came the reply, then a brief pause followed by: “And if that doesn’t take your fancy you can try the potato and leek.”


The Springboks have had it tough at times this year regarding the quality of training equipment supplied by the host union. In New Zealand, an old-style scrum machine was woefully inadequate for the soft field on which it was placed and, this week in Dublin, the machine did not make it through the scrum session, meaning that two packs went at it hammer and tongs in an extended ‘live’ scrumming session.

Scrum coach Matt Proudfoot was not overly perturbed, however. “A machine teaches you only timing and synergy,” he says, “but there is nothing better than learning off your teammates in a live session.”


The Ireland team announcement dished up a familiar name to Western Cape rugby fans. The 27-year old replacement hooker Rob Herring of Ulster was to deputise for captain Rory Best, himself of the Ulster club. Herring matriculated at SACS in Cape Town, won a Varsity Cup with Maties and under-21 and Vodacom Cup titles in the colours of Western Province.

His journey then took him to London Irish, where the prospect of playing for Ireland – he has an Irish grandfather – intensified. He now has over 120 caps for Ulster and a second international cap against the country of his birth following his debut against Argentina.


Jersey presentation on the day before a test match is always special for the Springboks, this one made that bit more so by the fact that it was done by team logistics manager JJ Fredericks, who was celebrating his 100th test match with the Springboks.

A former quality provincial loose forward, ‘Double J’ has an intense passion for the game and for the team to which he has given so much. He is usually the one organising the positions of the players in the team photo – this time he was there in the middle of the second row, resplendent in Springbok blazer and tie. Special.


The anti-South African sentiment in the Irish media ahead of the 2023 World Cup host country announcement has been tangible.

In one piece trying to fling mud because of the withdrawal of South Africa’s Commonwealth Games candidacy –which conveniently ignored important facts around this situation, as well as the highly successful hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup and many other global events – carried a headline that started with the words: “As World Rugby rakes its studs down our backs…”

I couldn’t help suggesting to the locals and via social media that perhaps the “back raking World Rugby” should consider changing the location of its headquarters, with its associated rentals, salaries etc away from…Dublin.


Let’s give the Irish bid its due: in the Aviva Stadium, constructed on the precise site of the legendary Lansdowne Road, Ireland has a truly world-class facility in every respect. The Springboks were afforded the honour of being part of the official opening in 2010 and spoiled the party with a narrow win, a feat they repeated in 2012.

But 2014 and this past weekend have seen a dramatic change in fortune as the Irish build their “fortress”. The 38-3 result was a record win on Saturday, the third try being scored by the aforementioned Herring, pouring salt into a badly bleeding wound. A tough week in Paris awaits…


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