Martyr McKenzie’s Cape crusade

Days after an Australian players’ survey voted De Wet Barry the dirtiest player in the Vodacom Super 14, Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie is doing his utmost to soften the blows.

McKenzie’s told Capetonions how beautiful their city is. Great insights Mr McKenzie. Another astute observation. With that kind of insight, the Stormers don’t have a chance.

If you’ve got half an hour to spare and a violen, here is McKenzie’s journal from his epic discovery of the joys and evils of visiting the Cape.

We think it’s only fair that the Muppits suffer along with the readers of the Sydney Morning Herald.

THE COLUMN…

Jetting into Cape Town this week from our base in Johannesburg, I feel a massive sense of deja vu. We’re back in familiar territory, at the Southern Sun hotel, just a 200-metre walk to the Newlands cauldron, where we will do battle with the Stormers.

The Stormers are the Cape-based team and contain many from the Springbok back line and back row. Cape Town is also the home of Robben Island and Table Mountain. I can see the top today, but this is not always the case. Our first-timers are already planning the mandatory pilgrimage to the summit, from where you can see the Indian and Atlantic oceans clashing.

This city and indeed this hotel bring mixed memories for me. It used to be called the Garden Court and worked hard to earn its three stars. Like all hotels, it has had many name changes and the wall could tell some stories.

It’s had a complete refurb in the past year or two and can now claim a few extra stars, but its fundamental shape remains unchanged. From my window, the mountain dominates – as does the spectre of the infamous Newlands stadium, one of the world’s noisiest rugby stadiums.

We lodged here in 1992, when the Wallabies resumed sporting relations with South Africa after a 20-year embargo. It seems like yesterday that we departed from the very same team room – Farr-Jones, Horan, Kearns, Eales, Campese and crew – and inflicted our greatest win over the Boks on their own soil. Happy memories.

Those days were difficult and surrounded by security. We were back in 1995 and unable to repeat the dose in the opening round of the Rugby World Cup. The team room walls would have absorbed the emotional speeches of our coach, the passionate Bob Dwyer, but even that was not enough to revive a team carrying injuries and at the end of a long and successful cycle.

The birth of the World Rugby Corporation also had it genesis at this time. The team room would have heard the first clandestine utterings of the WRC that months later would slingshot rugby union into the professional era.

Key individuals were becoming distracted at this time as the pressures of a massive product, now on display as the WRC, showed what potential the sport had and how far it had come without the advantage of full-time participation and commitment.

My memories of these days were also of the simple things. Excellent room service of sandwiches and milkshakes and the late-night food vending machine located conveniently outside the lifts for hit and run. Sadly, it seems to have moved, but I am still searching for it.

I stayed here again in 1995, 1997 and 1999 with the ACT Brumbies when one of the most infamous events in Super 12 history occurred. The 1999 taxi-cab affair – in which five Brumbies hailed a taxi, refused to pay the fare, then formed a scrum and pushed the vehicle down the road, ripped out the meter and dented the roof – made several players instantly recognisable and introduced us to other unique aspects of the Cape city.

The story was broken by the /Cape Argus/ newspaper, which nailed the villains and has continued to do so ever since. I can remember distinctly the circumstances as we had finally won our first game on South African soil after years of close calls. There were celebrations aplenty.

The taxi incident happened on the night after the game and followed a session at Camps Bay, a favourite beachside location favoured for Sunday afternoon drinks. The incident was a disaster for all, and again the hotel acted as a fortress against a massive pack of hungry media representatives.

Press conferences were held, as were mini-crisis meetings – players with coach, manager with police, players with players, media manager with everyone. The bun fight endured until we went to Pretoria three days later.

I have avoided the place since that unfortunate time. I have been to the Cape many times since, and I thought the refurbishment might have dulled the memories of the past. The place has had a ’70s chic rejuvenation that looks pretty sharp.

I’m the only one in the Waratahs from those old days, and luckily for us the Waratahs have had less eventful visits to the wonderful city. We did not get a win on our most recent visit.

I’m hoping we can continue to do the business this weekend and the hard work done putting the Reds away last week will count for something.

Hopefully the hotel’s newly painted walls will be absorbing the enthusiastically sung Waratahs team song, a great memory to add to the bank.