Rugby fans must come to football’s party.
When the 1995 Rugby World Cup was held in South Africa, the sport and the Springboks deservedly took centre stage. South Africans, black and white, threw their support behind the team, which is why Francois Pienaar thanked all 42 million of his countrymen, and not just the 62 000 at Ellis Park, before lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
This year’s Fifa World Cup gives us the chance to revive that spirit of unity and goodwill, which is why SA Rugby magazine has a football-themed cover this month. The Springboks, including Pierre Spies, have pledged their support to Bafana Bafana, and we urge all rugby fans to do the same.
Our national football team had a disappointing build-up to the tournament, but so did Pienaar’s Boks before their World Cup campaign. They weren’t expected to progress past the quarter-final stage but a win against the Wallabies in the opening match at Newlands gave them a massive confidence boost and put them on the ‘high road’ to the final.
If Bafana beat Mexico in the opening match of the World Cup at Soccer City they could go on to reach the second round, and their encouraging performances against Spain and Brazil (ranked No 1 and 2 in the world respectively) at last year’s Confederations Cup showed they can perform on a big stage.
However, while the majority of South Africans will be suffering from football fever in June, the Springboks will still demand attention. Their Tests in June, against Wales in Cardiff, France in Cape Town, and Italy in Witbank and East London, raise several interesting questions.
Peter de Villiers is expected to select some overseas-based players for the game against Wales as it takes place a week after the Super 14 final. But will that new-look team have enough time to train together and if the overseas-based players excel, will they then be considered for future Tests?
How will the first-choice Springbok side, presumably made up entirely of home-based players, perform in their first match together this season, against Six Nations champions France? In Jake White’s third year in charge of the Boks, Les Bleus’ 36-26 win at Newlands signalled the beginning of a nightmare 2006 season that almost cost White his job. De Villiers could find himself under similar pressure in his third year if the Boks suffer another defeat to the French.
The two Tests against Italy will give De Villiers a chance to rest his stars and give his fringe players game time. But which of the Bok midweek players who toured Europe last year will get another chance to impress? And will the coach reward Super 14 form?
Four consecutive wins would erase the bad memories of last year’s European tour and ensure John Smit’s side enter the Tri-Nations as favourites to defend their title. Let’s hope the Boks, and Bafana, will rise to the challenge in June.
By Simon Borchardt