We need each other, says All Blacks legend

Sean Fitzpatrick says the rugby world would be incomplete without the All Blacks and Springboks’ rivalry.

Fitzpatrick, a 1987 World Cup winner, writes in his weekly NZ Heraldn Column, that captaining the All Blacks to a first ever series win against the Boks in South Africa in 1996 remains his greatest memory as an All Black.

Fitzpatrick, responding to suggestions that South Africa may want out of Sanzar, urged officials to make the right decision for the right reason.

‘Don’t do it,’ he wrote.

‘The All Blacks and the Springboks need each other, perhaps more than either would like to admit. In my view, it’s still the best rivalry in world rugby. I have magical memories from my youth of sitting in front of the TV with my family in the dead of night, tingling with excitement at the prospect of watching the All Blacks take on the auld enemy.’

He added that playing the Boks had always been the ultimate challenge for any All Black and that remained the case.

‘It’s probably one of the most intimidating challenges in world rugby. To beat the South Africans, you have to do it off the pitch, as well as on it.

‘From the moment you step into their country, they’re on your back. Groups of kids, solitary old men, middle-aged women having lunch, gangs of beer-laden Bokkie farmers – wherever you are, everyone you meet has a dislike for you and wants to share it with you.

‘I have so many memories from my playing days of people coming up to me and saying, “Fitzpatrick, I want to take you outside and scrum you into the ground”, or “Fitzpatrick you’re going to eat some humble pie come Saturday”. It was almost as if it was personal.

‘You ask any All Black who toured South Africa in 1996 and I’m pretty sure they would cite it as their greatest memory as an All Black. Sure, winning the series helped, but there was so much more than that.

‘The intensity on and off the field was both draining and exhilarating. The single-minded focus and burning desire of the entire group to be the first team to win on South African soil was a joy to be a part of.

‘When we walked off Loftus Versfeld having won the series, the satisfaction that we’d beaten our greatest rivals in their own back yard was immense. For the dirt-trackers to perform the haka for us as we walked off the field was fantastic.

‘For the late great Don Clarke to come up to me in the tunnel and hug me and say (crying) “thank you for achieving what so many generations of All Blacks have been trying to do for years” was emotional dynamite.

‘I count those minutes as among the most rewarding in my entire international career.’

Fitzpatrick wrote he did not know what the answer was to the Sanzar arrangement but felt the South African travel schedule was unfair and ideally both countries benefitted most through tours, as that is what the people really wanted – the All Blacks in South Africa for six weeks and the Boks in New Zealand for six weeks.

‘A tour to South Africa? That is the best of the best. They don’t like us, we don’t like them, so let the man blow the whistle and let’s get down to business. In the fast moving tides of international rugby, we need to be careful that we don’t end up high and dry, stranded on the sanitised sandbanks of quick-fire, one-off internationals; while we hanker back to the good, old days of All Black-South Africa tours and touring – where folklore is created and legends are born.’