In another letter to the editor as we continue to encourage our readers to send CRAIG LEWIS submissions, James Roberts reflects on what he misses most about rugby during this period of lockdown.
I miss rugby on Saturday afternoons. Strangely enough for a first-generation South African born of English parents, rugby dominated at the weekend. My father was always off doing something DIY, but if we could evade his clutches, we could watch rugby on the TV as my mother set up her ironing board and ironed my dad’s shirts while yelling at the screen.
We probably watched more matches in Afrikaans than English, considering this was the 80s, but I got my passion for the game from those times.
My mother was from near Liverpool, but football wasn’t what we watched, except for the FA Cup final which we always watched at my grandparents, who had followed my parents out in ’83 when Thatcher broke the unions and my grandad lost his job. No, it was rugby we watched.
My mother tells stories about my grandad playing rugby in England (league, I assume), and his mates bringing him home after the game and a few drinks, and leaving him propped up against the wall with another broken collarbone as they rang the bell and ran.
I always watched rugby, but I didn’t play all that much. I went a small private school where my mother taught to gain a fee reduction, where we had an under-14 and a First Team, if we were lucky.
I was small and not what they were looking for. I only really hit my full growth in Matric and first year varsity, and there I did play a couple of games on the wing. Playing meant I sometimes missed a Saturday game on the TV, but it was good fun.
However, once I left varsity, the ritual of Saturday games resumed. I worked in Welkom for a bit, even turned up for a club practice once and then realized I wasn’t into that much punishment – I was fast, but those guys were big!
I did pick up a lifelong love for Cheetahs rugby, most especially the ‘devil may care’, throw the ball and run style they often play. I moved back to Joburg, and settled into a routine that followed me on to Pretoria. Saturday afternoon is rugby time!
Over the years, I’ve seen many games during the week, and on Fridays, but the games on Saturday stand out. World Cup victories in 1995, 2007, 2019 (the last is the best), Vodacom Super rugby finals where the Vodacom Bulls won or the Lions lost, Currie Cup finals when Rassie’s Cheetahs won the cup – all of these are Saturday memories.
The games half in shade, half in sun, during the Highveld winter, and the games in the dark in the pouring rain at Loftus which only lasted till half time (I was actually in a box at Loftus for that one, so we stayed until the booze ran out!). Trekking to Ellis Park some time around 2012 for a game when we were almost the only spectators there. And the Lions lost, of course.
Though I’ll watch rugby anytime, anywhere, and I’m the guy in the bar at Christmas time asking for some European game to watch on Sunday afternoon (only if there’s no cricket – I’m quite partial to that game too), Saturday afternoon has always been reserved for rugby.
When duty calls and things like weddings and braais require my attendance, I’m always following the score and sometimes sneaking a peek at the live stream.
Saturdays are for rugby, and I miss it!
*If you’d like to join Roberts in sending us a rugby letter, we invite you to share any of your thoughts or memories in an email to editor Craig Lewis at this address: [email protected]