#SouthAfrica2023, Opinions

Where rugby is a religion

Rugby is a religion in South Africa and having the Rugby World Cup in South Africa in 2023 would allow the game’s modern players to experience one of the great adventures in the sport.

A six week rugby tour in South Africa is the stuff of legend and folklore because of the public’s total rugby immersion.

Professionalism, new international tournaments like Super Rugby and a congested northern hemisphere calendar, has meant that rugby and touring only ever gets mentioned every four years when the British and Irish Lions travel to one of New Zealand, South Africa or Australia.

Rugby lovers would have lapped up the recent Lions series to New Zealand. The Lions played 10 matches in five weeks, competed against all five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises and drew the three-Test series one-all in the most dramatic fashion.

Crowds were a sell-out and more than 20 000 British and Irish Lions fans made the long journey to New Zealand. Rugby, in all its former glory, triumphed.

Tours, with the exception of the British and Irish Lions, simply cannot be replicated in this age of professionalism. There isn’t space to accommodate a six week carnival for any international team – and modern players and fans are the poorer for the absence of a six week tour to the Republic of South Africa.

Sean Fitzpatrick’s All Blacks of 1996 experienced touring South Africa for six weeks. The British and Irish Lions, in 1997 and 2009, are the only other band of rugby brothers who understand and appreciate just what it means to tour South Africa.

There are two generations of the globe’s best rugby players who would have heard of the rugby Republic that is South Africa, but there are very few who would have experienced this rugby country on high alert because of non-stop rugby over a six-week period.

The late great Nelson Mandela gave the 1995 Rugby World Cup its most global visual in a moment that transcended sport. Madiba and South Africa’s winning Rugby World Cup high was turned into a Hollywood movie because it was a story so much bigger than a rugby tournament.

The seduction of South Africa playing host to World Rugby’s best 20 teams in 2023 must be irresistible for anyone who lives the game.

The British and Irish Lions are in South Africa in 2021 and that tour is the ideal precursor to the biggest event in professional rugby two years later.

South Africa 2023 would also give the South African public the chance to reinforce the traditions of old and remind the sporting world of the magnetism of a South Africa rugby tour-type experience.

South Africa, along with New Zealand, remains rugby’s ultimate rugby destination.

I was privileged to report on the 1995 World Cup in South Africa and the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Nothing compares to 1995 and 2011 for total rugby immersion and the way in which the public embraced the respective events.

Having world rugby’s greatest show in South Africa in 2023 would be massive for the sport and for the country.

If not 2023, then when for South Africa and indeed Africa, which is the biggest growth point for the game in the 21st century?

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