• Tour Tales – Nelspruit

    JON CARDINELLI reflects on a window onto the lowveld, the Faf de Klerk fan club, and Allister Coetzee’s post-rugby coaching ambitions.

    ‘Maybe you’ll get lucky tomorrow,’ the Nelspruit local said. His right hand moved to his face to pantomime an eye opening. ‘Maybe the weather will clear before you head out to God’s Window. Maybe God’s eye will be open, and you will see all the way to Mozambique!’

    Across the table, colleague Craig Lewis responded with a polite laugh. I shifted uneasily on my barstool and then examined the contents of my glass. What exactly was this nutter on about?

    It was at this point that I became aware of the relentless croaking that could be heard over the chatter in the Jock and Grill. Here we were, at one of the most famous watering holes in Nelspruit, and we were still surrounded by unseen animals.

    ‘Whatever you do, gents,’ our new friend shouted so as to be heard over the frogs, ‘please write something good about Mpumalanga. ‘Take it from me, it’s much better than Joburg!’

    Lewis and I chuckled as we recounted the episode en route to the famous landmark. The road through Hazyview and Graskop was treacherous and potholed. The sky indicated that ‘God’s' eye would not be opening for our benefit on this particular day. But when we finally reached the highest vantage point and gazed down into the gorge hundreds of metres below, we agreed that the trip was well worth the effort.

    Mpumalanga residents have a lot to be proud of. Indeed, they have produced some outstanding rugby players in recent times: Duane Vermeulen, Faf de Klerk and Vincent Koch to name a few.

    ‘From Puma to Bok,’ screamed the headline of an article in the Lowvelder featuring De Klerk. Earlier this week, many of the fans who attended the opening training session at the Mbombela Stadium hoped to catch a glimpse of the Nelspruit native.

    One group of small boys was responsible for most of the noise made throughout the practice. ‘Faf-de-Klerk, Faf-de-Klerk!’ they chanted for the duration of the two-hour session. They were rewarded later when the Boks climbed into the stands to give autographs.

    Many of the Bok players and coaches have followed the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro closely. South Africa’s first gold medalist at the 2016 Games, Wayde van Niekerk, was spoken about at the breakfast table over the course of the week.

    Head coach Allister Coetzee said that Van Niekerk had inspired many of the players with his record-breaking feat in Rio. At the same time, Coetzee appeared particularly impressed with the efforts of Van Niekerk’s coach, a 74-year-old woman named Ans Botha.

    ‘I think it’s great, that just highlights the diversity in this country,’ said Coetzee, commenting on the age gap between athlete and coach.

    As the press conference wound down and reporters began to pack their pens and notepads away, SuperSport scribe Brenden Nel fired one final question in jest. ‘So there’s hope for you down the line, Allister, as an athletics coach?’

    ‘Who knows?’ Coetzee quipped. ‘And perhaps you could be my agent.’

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    Jon Cardinelli