Tour Tales – Dublin

JON CARDINELLI on Irish pub culture, the black stuff, and exorcising the ghost of Peter de Villiers.

What does a Springbok and an iconic Irish literary character have in common? Not much, it would seem. For while Leopold Bloom once pondered the puzzle of crossing Dublin without passing a pub, the Boks have sought to embrace Ireland’s pub culture and sample a pint or two.

Last Sunday, Schalk Burger and a few others were spotted at a popular spot in Booterstown. Burger volunteered this information freely at a subsequent press conference, without giving away too many details.

This had a charming effect on the Irish press contingent, who proceeded to swap war stories. The conversation turned to the subject of escalating prices in the capital and the greed of some establishments, with one journalist denouncing: ‘And do you know, t’ey’ve started charging extra for water!’ In response, Burger didn’t miss a beat: ‘Good thing I wasn’t drinking water then.’

According to the Irish press, Heyneke Meyer’s Boks have busted the myth that South Africa only play a physical and largely predictable brand of rugby. On a less sporting note, the one myth that’s been confirmed this past week is that Guinness does indeed taste better in this part of the world. Burger, a wine and beer enthusiast, said as much on Wednesday. Having had a pint or two of the black stuff myself, I wholeheartedly concur.

It’s worth venturing to the Guinness Storehouse for a look at the brewing process, and to the Old Jamesons Distillery, if whiskey is your thing. But the heart of Dublin's drinking culture is in the pubs concentrated in the city centre. Throughout the week, you can expect to find a cross section of Irish society crammed into the bars around Grafton Street, Merrion Square, and Temple Bar. The recession be damned. When the working day is done, Dubliners from every walk of life can be seen worshipping at these alters, and sharing the craic with friends old and new.

The locals love their sport, and are quick to engage with foreigners who take an interest in Ireland’s own teams and codes. One character I bumped into told me about his two relatives who currently play for a local Gaelic football team. Another outlined the finer points of hurling. A cabbie with the build as well as the voice of a leprechaun spoke at length about Croke Park, and why he believes the 80,000-seater stadium should routinely host the rugby union Tests against South Africa and New Zealand. Having attended the Test between Ireland and the Boks in 2009 at that venue, I have to agree. It truly is a battlefield.

Those in the know say winter is coming. Fortunately for us African types who prefer the warm weather, this past week in Dublin has been mild to cool. On last year's tour of Europe, I watched the Boks train in some bitterly cold conditions, and in parkas that lent them the appearance of South Park characters rather than professional athletes. This week in Ireland, it’s been business as usual, with the less naturally insulated backs as well as the forwards training in shorts and short-sleeved jerseys.

The Boks’ intensity at training has been patent, and what’s clear is that they are taking their preparations seriously. There have been a few lighter moments on the training paddock, though. On Monday, Willie le Roux was practising his clearances from the 22. At one point, the fullback got a surprise when Bok media manager De Jongh Borchardt came in from an unseen angle, hell-bent on charging down the kick. ‘That’s how it’s done, kerels,’ Borchardt told the chuckling media men on the sidelines.

Former Bok coach Peter de Villiers is currently touring Europe in the guise of a South African journalist. At least that’s what it feels like. That squeaky voice has been prevalent at media sessions throughout the week, and as was the case when 'Snor' was still preaching his weird and wonderful philosophies, there have been some inadvertently entertaining moments because of it.

Seasoned journalist Craig Ray had an unfortunate start to his tour when his luggage was ‘misplaced’ on the journey north. As a result, he rocked up at the first press conference of the week in clothes, and underwear, that were not his own. He was also suffering from a bout of flu that had impaired his money-making voice.

While putting a technical query to Bok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher, Ray’s voice deflated dramatically, giving off a sound like air escaping a balloon. He then gestured for somebody else to complete his question, although many of us would-be Samaritans were unsure what he was trying to say. And so, when the laughter had finally abated, there was an awkward silence.

Mercifully, Loubscher stepped in to offer a few unrelated insights. After the presser, team doctor Craig Roberts supplied Ray with the means to cure his physical ailment. However, as Roberts himself playfully remarked, there are other aspects of Ray that just can’t be rectified by modern science.

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Jon Cardinelli