Tour Tales – Cape Town

JON CARDINELLI reflects on a week of finger braces, rugby carnivals and vocal spectators.

It’s been a few weeks since Elton Jantjies had an operation to repair a fractured finger. By now, every rugby journalist and by extension every fan should have an intimate understanding of the materials and apparatuses that are keeping the flyhalf’s famous finger in place.

On Monday, the Cape Town press enjoyed a light-hearted moment with the new team doctor, Conrad von Hagen, who was tasked with explaining the injury.

‘Which finger did Elton fracture?’ asked one journalist.

‘And on what hand?’ demanded another.

‘Can you perhaps show us?’ added yet another.

Von Hagen explained that the digit in question was the middle finger of Jantjies’s right hand. The good doctor was asked to use his own hand and finger as a reference, and then suddenly realised that the gesture might be taken the wrong way.

Later that afternoon, the Boks headed out to the Belhar Rugby Club on the Cape Flats for a training session. The team bus was greeted by hundreds of locals as it made the turn into Accordion Street. The area in and around the club boasted a carnival-like atmosphere, and it was clear that the community truly relished the opportunity to host its rugby heroes.

The fans that packed the stands were never short on a word of encouragement. ‘Scarra, jou yster!’ screamed one of the more enthusiastic admirers as Ntubeni practised his lineout throws. A large group of people stood on a hill that overlooked the training field on the far side.

The training session at Cape Town Stadium on Tuesday morning was a different experience. Security was tight, and aside from the Bok group, the journalists, and a few maintenance men hanging from a net that resembled a large spider’s web in the south-east corner, the ground was empty.

The vibe at Newlands for the Test match was again a different experience. I’m not sure why rugby stadium DJs insist on playing music from the 1980s and 90s, or why they will continue to pump said music when a player is lining up a shot at goal. Poor Pat Lambie was forced to endure ACDC’s Thunderstruck almost up to the point where his boot made contact with the ball.

One wonders what the Irish made of the whole scene. At Aviva Stadium and many other grounds around Europe, it’s not uncommon for everybody on site to show their respect by remaining silent until a goal kick has been completed.

While the Boks disappointed with their performance at Newlands, the local crowd did not. After belting out the South African national anthem for the first time in 2016, the Newlands faithful joined in for the chorus of ‘Ireland’s Call’.

The crowd was less friendly, however, when CJ Stander clattered into Lambie in the 23rd minute. Chants of ‘Off, off, off,’ rang around the ground, and may have influenced the official’s decision to eject the Ireland player.

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Jon Cardinelli