Reason to celebrate

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says South Africans should savour days like Saturday.

I can’t recall a Saturday of such vintage South African rugby; of such pleasure and of such reward. It was spectacular and it only reinforces why there always has to be expectation from South African teams.

There should never be an acceptance of failure.

We have outstanding coaches and we have incredible talent among our players, who can play the game as well as anyone.

There is more to the South African way than crash, bash and kick. Our players have more in their make-up than heroic defence. They can attack and they can play with width and enterprise. They also have rugby intelligence and it isn’t confined to the professional teams.

There has to be optimism about our rugby, at every level, and days like Saturday have to be celebrated. I got an e-mail last week from a bloke who said I had the dream job … writing and talking about rugby. He wrote that he wished his Saturday morning started, as mine does, with a radio slot talking rugby for an hour. He added that he wished he was paid to watch rugby.

I am not arguing, especially when my Saturday can also include the Lions deservedly winning in New Zealand and I get to spend an entire morning enjoying the pleasures of schoolboy rugby at SACS, where the juniors hosted Bishops and the seniors faced the might of Paul Roos Gymnasium.

And it only got better in the afternoon with Paul Treu’s Blitsbokke unbeaten at Murrayfield, with the South African-dominated Saracens winning England’s Premiership final against Leicester at Twickenham, with the Sharks dealing with the Waratahs in Durban and then with the most breathtaking last 30 minutes at Loftus Versveld as the Bulls and the Cheetahs produced the Super Rugby match of the weekend.

Veterans sparkled and the next generation of potential international SA players made their most telling contribution in Super Rugby this season.

I wrote in a recent article for Business Day Sport Monthly that Springbok coach Peter de Villiers is spoilt for choice when it comes to his World Cup selection and Saturday was a vindication of this view. Some fine players won’t make the World Cup squad and that tells you the quality of player based in SA and overseas.

Schalk Brits, among the form players in Europe for the past 18 months, was inspirational for Saracens and claimed the Man of the Match award along with a championship medal.

Earlier in the day Wikus van Heerden, who returned to SA this year after two years with Saracens, played the game of his life in Dunedin as the Lions beat the Highlanders in the last minute of the match.

Van Heerden’s celebration after scoring the try that won the game was not misplaced. It was wonderful to see the outpouring of emotion.

We don’t celebrate the good enough in this country and we definitely don’t smile enough about our rugby.

Indifferent Super Rugby results contribute to the frowns but when we have days like Saturday we have to live in the moment and make some noise.

Individually there were so many world-class performances and I thought Elton Jantjies and Ashley Johnson stood among the tallest. Both have battled in the tournament but Jantjies, in particular, has enjoyed his two finest professional performances in the past three weeks. Take a bow young man. Take a bow.

Pat Lambie, in Durban, was composed and influential in ensuring the Sharks remain a play-off prospect and at Loftus Morné Steyn played with authority. The Bulls have to win every match to make the play-offs and in the past month they haven’t looked like losing. Their visit to Newlands in a fortnight can’t come soon enough and that match will further advertise the strength of the South African game.

The Cheetahs, the most flamboyant and attack-orientated of the South African teams in the competition, did not get any league points in Pretoria but they certainly would have earned the respect of the Bulls players and a Loftus crowd I have always viewed as the most informed and rugby-intelligent in the country.

In the context of the South African tournament challenge it was important that the Bulls won, but there can be no denying the quality of the Cheetahs’ performance.

The Stormers won in Canberra for the first time against the Brumbies and as important as the win was the effort of Springbok wing Bryan Habana. He was second only to Schalk Burger, who was typically dominant in everything he did.

Habana’s 2007 World Cup wing team-mate JP Pietersen also enjoyed his best match of the season for the Sharks.

My player of the weekend was Danie Rossouw, with the Ebersohn twins again instrumental in all that was good about the Cheetahs.

There were so many individuals who prospered on Saturday but the greatest victory was the collective one for South African rugby.