Tour Tales – London

JON CARDINELLI on a Springbok hobo, Bok on Bok violence, and the Twickenham experience.

A doctor at the dentist. That was the scenario this past Monday when Jannie du Plessis had a broken incisor seen to by a specialist in London. The following day, he showed the South African media that only a stump of a tooth remained. ‘I look like a hobo now,’ he lamented. The physical performance against England, however, would prove a thing of real beauty.

Nobody can say they didn’t see a Bok backlash coming, though. Monday’s training session was particularly brutal, with brother instructed to bleed brother. Eben Etzebeth landed a stunning tackle on Schalk Burger, but the hit of the session belonged to Coenie Oosthuizen. The prop absolutely bulldozed poor Pat Lambie, and the flyhalf was left prone on the pitch for some time. On the sideline, team doctor Craig Roberts cringed. ‘I hate a Monday practice that follows a loss,’ he told the reporters.

Spare a thought for Scarra Ntubeni, who was forced to take part in that koppestamp session despite having had nothing to do with the Ireland match. A late injury replacement for Robbie Coetzee, Ntubeni only joined the Bok squad following Western Province’s match against Saracens. Province copped a beating in every sense, and Ntubeni himself sustained an ugly shiner. However, he would need to front from the get-go at training as Heyneke Meyer demanded a lift in physical intensity from all 36 players.

Four weeks is a long time to be away from home, and families are often encouraged to join the players at some point on tour. The past week witnessed a few of the wives and children arriving, and if you were based around Kensington High Street, you would probably have spotted the Matfield brood, or even the Habanas taking their young son for a walk in the pram.

Duane Vermeulen’s boy has already outgrown the stroller, and could be seen sprinting the length of the team hotel, keeping Mrs Vermeulen on her toes. The kid already has the energy and the speed, not to mention the features of his old man, and it shouldn’t be long before he’s chasing a rugby ball with the same intensity.

John Smit once told me that he enjoyed his anonymity in London. England is football mad, and even the most well-known rugby stars can walk the streets of the capital without fear of being bearded. This much was proven when I saw Smit, now the Sharks CEO, slipping onto the train without being hassled for a conversation or an autograph. The exception to this rule, however, is Bob Skinstad. The former Bok captain didn’t make it further than a couple hundred metres from the team hotel before he was accosted.

Meyer and current Bok skipper Jean de Villiers said this South African team enjoys a trip to Twickenham. I feel the same way; the stadium and atmosphere is among the best in the world. However, what was interesting to note this past Saturday was the power failure at the ground that rendered the lifts unusable, and that not one steward had a sweet clue of where anything could be located. So much for first-world efficiency.

That aside, the occasion as well as the game itself was enjoyable for all who attended. What marked this game as especially entertaining were the comments made by referee Steve Walsh during breaks in play. Viewers at home would have picked up an edited feed from the ref’s mic, while fans at the game as well as journalists would have been privy to all sorts of banter, moaning, and colourful pleading by the players. And on Saturday at Twickers, Walsh excelled in putting the players in their place.

‘Who me, sir?!’ squealed Jannie du Plessis, after Walsh had penalised the tighthead for a scrum infringement. Then there was the moment when the Boks cried foul over some incident that had occurred in back play. Walsh suggested it was the citing commissioner’s problem, as he had missed it completely. He then chirped, ‘Well, they haven’t replayed it on the big screen like they usually do’. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen complained about this last week. The trend is for TV producers to replay an incident with the aim of influencing the referee and aiding the home team. On this occasion, Walsh pointed out that he wasn’t going to get any help from the English broadcasters, and suggested that South Africa shouldn’t expect any favours either. The Boks, to their credit, laughed it off.

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

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