#CarpingPoint: Good luck Bokke, silence the haters

The Springboks squad. File image.

The Springboks squad. File image.

Published Oct 21, 2023


Johannesburg - It was the late great Liverpool coach Bill Shankly who famously uttered, “Someone said ‘soccer’s a matter of life or death to you’, and I said ‘no it’s not, it’s far more important than that’.” Many South Africans are starting to feel that way about Siya Kolisi, Rasnaber and the Springboks as they limber up for the second of their last two games of the Rugby World Cup this evening.

They have every right. In a planet increasingly beset by violence, arrogance and venality, sport offers us the hope of something different. But in its own way sport is also a reflection of the bigger realities. No one dies in sport, the stakes aren’t actually that high, but the conspiracy theories, the bigotry and the hatred are as vicious as anything you might find in the real world.

South Africans might quibble about Rassie Erasmus’s selections, but for most he can do no wrong. Up north, for the suits in the suites, he’s a mix of Guy Fawkes and Julius Malema. They can’t call him a white racist, but they’ve done their damnedest to pin every other tail on the donkey; from gamesmanship to downright cheating. During the Lions’ tour in 2021, he was castigated for acting as a water boy and then for making a video (that got leaked) about a particular referee’s performance. That got him an unprecedented 10-month ban from the game.

Two years before at the 2019 World Cup, he pioneered the 6:2 bomb squad of reserves. Fast-forward to this year, everyone is criticising the refs, quite openly. The coaches are all going the bomb squad route – and Warren Gatland’s taking the opportunity to settle scores on sores that haven’t healed since the Lions tour.

Then Erasmus was accused of destroying rugby fielding a 7:1 bomb squad against New Zealand. This week he was accused of misusing the Head Injury Assessment protocols to give his players a break during the crunch quarter-final against the French – even though videos show each player had taken a hit to the head.

It doesn’t matter to the diehards. Much like the tinfoil hat wearing, WhatsApp fingering ivermectin swillers of Covid-19; Rassie will always be the villain… and Cheslin Kolbe started running before that kick – despite the video angles that say he didn’t. Physio Rene Naylor was coaching from the touchline…

The number of bad losers is legion, but it’s somehow acceptable because they aren’t South African. You can’t win. You certainly can’t persuade them, although Rassie’s toenadering towards referees is bordering on Saul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus. You can’t even stop the death threats on social media that Cobus Reinach received this week, including a particularly heinous one against his young son.

What you can do is be true to yourself, your values and the people that count. There’s an incredible lesson for all of us to take to heart in an increasingly ambiguous, complex and volatile world.

Good luck tonight, Bokke. Bring it back for all of us. Silence the haters.

The Saturday Star