Keo, in his Business Day newspaper weekly column, writes of a player’s triumph and defeat at Loftus.
The Stormers lost in Pretoria but Luke Watson definitely won against a Loftus crowd whose game plan lacked imagination and was devoid of all invention.
The crowd behaviour was as abysmal as the quality of rugby and indeed it was Watson who seemed to intimidate the near 50 000 voices by simply accepting their challenge of continued booing by asking if that was all they had to offer.
It reminded me of former All Blacks wing Jeff Wilson toying with the Newlands crowd a decade ago. Wilson, playing for the Highlanders in the Super 12, was jeered the first time he touched the ball, but midway through the match he was begging the crowd for a reaction as he scored his third try.
With both hands reaching for both ears he gestured for increased noise levels, as he could hear nothing coming from the crowd. It was hilarious and the vocal bullies had nowhere to turn but to further embarrassment. What did these morons do 10 years ago in response to Wilson’s third try? Predictably they booed.
It was the same in Pretoria. What else did the louts of Loftus have to give? Nothing, and when Watson calmly robbed Pierre Spies of the ball in contact and fashioned another clever turnover all the crowd could respond with was another boo as effective as South Africa’s cricket challenge in recent weeks against Australia.
The humiliation belonged to those attempting to ridicule.
Watson, like many of his fictional heroes in the Bible, thrives on confrontation and conflict. Adversity is another must in his working day, as is being condemned by those non-believers of freedom of speech.
In going to Loftus, all the above elements were script guarantees for the stereotype of the persecuted and defiant Christian and naturally, armed with self-belief and backed by God, Watson prospered.
The Loftus crowd, many of them believers of Christianity, misread the contest because effectively they were doing battle with one of their own, but whereas they lacked conviction in their application of resentment, Watson was committed to his stand of defiance.
Watson, disgusted at wearing a jersey with a Springbok emblem on it, is not popular for saying so. He is even less popular for calling South African rugby a game run by Afrikaners, even though there has never been a disciplinary to confirm if he ever did utter the supposedly wicked word ‘dutchmen’.
Watson, the public relations man, is a boring project because his rants and contradictions are as predictable as the Loftus crowd booing. His rugby, though, has more enterprise and is powerful.
He has never produced a Test performance of authority, but his international career has been brief and conditions and playing circumstances cannot compare to the environment of Super Rugby, which is a world made for the skills of Watson.
His Super Rugby pedigree cannot be disputed. Whether you despise his personality or revere him, he can play Super rugby and in Pretoria he did a damn better job of it than local hero Pierre Spies, who for all his athleticism still goes into mute mode when the Bulls tight five engine can’t get out of neutral.
Watson in the one-on-one match-up outplayed Spies, which does not mean I’d pick him ahead of Spies for the Springboks. I wouldn’t, but to dispute Watson’s superiority over Spies at the weekend would be a betrayal for anyone gifted a healthy set of eyes.
Watson is a clever player, whose athleticism is matched by an ability to read the game and by good skills. He may physically struggle in contact but his mind never battles to go forward.
These factors helped him beat the Loftus louts, but because of his persecution complex about being a privileged white Watson in a black South Africa these factors are meaningless in Watson’s fight to beat out of himself the need to be a South African rugby martyr; liable for the actions of those who lived in an era he has only ever read about.
Watson, the rugby player, won in Pretoria, but it is Watson the rugby player who never wins in Watson’s world – and that will always be the tragedy of a player whose world does not allow him to simply be a rugby player.