Tour Tales – Johannesburg

JON CARDINELLI on the Ellis Park atmosphere, turning Japanese, and beer for life.

Is there any better place to watch rugby? Ellis Park will always be special to South Africans after what happened at this hallowed ground back in 1995. But as Richie McCaw said on Saturday after the All Blacks’ battle against the Boks, the Ellis Park experience is something that players from around the world have learned to appreciate and enjoy.

OK, perhaps enjoy is the wrong word. The All Blacks delivered a stirring rendition of Kapa O Pango before kick-off on Saturday, although their cries and chants were drowned out by a boisterous 60,000-strong crowd.

The spectators were in an especially vocal mood, and Jean de Villiers later admitted that there were tears in his eyes during the national anthem. The passionate capacity crowd shouted itself hoarse, giving the host side energy before kick-off, and then again during the latter stages when it seemed the Boks were in danger of letting victory slip.

So how is Schalk Burger finding Japan, and Tokyo in particular? ‘It’s like arriving in space,’ he told a media scrum on Tuesday.

‘It’s completely different to Cape Town, and a very different experience altogether. I’m actually looking forward to exploring more of the city when I get back next week.’

When I caught up with the Bok flanker for a word after the conference, he explained the ‘space’ comment in more detail.

‘It’s impossible when you first arrive there, because you can’t even attempt to translate anything into English. You can’t read anything. I’ve got lost so many times, but I’m getting a bit better now,’ he chuckled.

Somebody get Richie McCaw a beer! This past week, the most prevalent theme has been the mutual respect between the All Blacks and Springboks. Not far behind that has been the banter about McCaw’s ‘Beers for Life’ status in New Zealand.

‘He’ll never have to buy a beer in New Zealand again,’ said Steve Hansen, after being asked about McCaw surpassing Colin Meads’s record for the most All Blacks appearances. ‘Colin certainly hasn’t.’

McCaw’s powers have not waned, and neither have those of Kieran Read. The All Black No 8 shaved off his formidable beard this week, and some feared that the loss of the facial hair would correspond to a loss of form. After what transpired on Saturday evening, Read will probably never shave again.

Teammate Israel Dagg was more concerned about Read’s prominent cowlick, which lent him the appearance of an overgrown member of the boyband One Direction.

‘I’ll admit it, I’m a bit jealous. I couldn’t grow something like that,’ he said, running his fingers along a receding hairline. ‘These days I’m rocking the Ian Foster-do.’

Photo: Bruce Taylor/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli