Tour tales – London (Week 6)

JON CARDINELLI reflects on sugar highs, the inescapable refereeing debate, and the Argentine tube melee.

Earlier this week, Steve Hansen was asked whether the presence of the All Blacks’ wives, girlfriends and children were a potential distraction. Hansen said no, and that it would be a far greater distraction if said loved ones were still in far-flung New Zealand.

Many of the Boks have enjoyed the company of their families over the past three weeks. Of course, this has forced the players to juggle family responsibilities with other duties.

The conclusion of the team announcement press conference on Wednesday coincided with the start of a birthday party for Fourie du Preez’s young daughter. As journalists poured out of the conference room, the festivities commenced.

We weren’t invited, but we had to work somewhere. I will never forget writing a Bok team piece while a group of sugar-fuelled toddlers attempted to break landspeed records with searing runs through the lobby. I consider the experience excellent preparation for parenthood.

I’m sure the Boks have enjoyed Guildford a lot better than Bagshot. Just a short walk from the team hotel, down a winding cobblestone road, is the town centre. It was in one of the charming town’s coffee shops where we met a family from Zimbabwe. And as fate would have it, the patriarch was a former referee.

‘Are you guys reporters?’ he barked. At that point, Craig Ray was speaking to somebody on his cell about the whole Craig Joubert saga. When he finished, he turned around to give the man his full attention.

The coffee shop patron said he had worked with a few South African referees back in the day, and with Joubert when the official was still making his way as a young whistle-blower. ‘He was always very talented. I can’t believe he’s been hung out to dry,’ he intoned.

Some of my colleagues have moaned about the lengthy journey out to Guildford, as well as the trip to Weybridge where the All Blacks were staying this past week. What I will say about these journeys is that they have been long, quiet and without drama.

This contrasts a trip to Richmond, the gateway to Twickenham, on game day. Even as early as four hours before kick-off, underground trains coming in from central London are crammed with rugby fans. Spirits are high, and the talk inside the carriages colourful. Of course, it wouldn’t be South West London without a healthy dose of Afrikaans.

Our train journey back from the semi-final on Saturday night witnessed something out of the ordinary. A group of Argentina fans, who had had a few to drink, were in a boisterous mood.

As the train departed Richmond station, the fans formed an impromptu rolling maul. Craig Ray dived out of the way as the pod hurtled towards him with unsympathetic ferocity. Some of the other passengers laughed. Some whipped out their phones and filmed the whole ordeal. The only time the maul ceased was when its members wanted to sing.

The maul gathered momentum once again. It absorbed someone new. An English man in his late sixties found himself in the middle of the melee.

Ray and I looked at each other nervously. It was time to intervene. This old bloke was in danger. However, a closer look would reveal that the old man was fine, and relishing the whole experience.

The maul disbanded when the Argentines got off the train at Earl’s Court station. The old man sat down and attempted to catch his breath. He turned towards us, pointed to our laptop bags and laughed manically.

‘Hey! Maybe you can write about this!’ he said.

How could we not?

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli