It’s that time of the rugby season when the Super Rugby pauses for a while and we get a few international matches. Wales and Scotland are due to make short visits to South Africa later in the month but the first fixture for the Springboks was a non-cap game in Cape Town against a ‘World XV’.
As the match was scheduled for one week after the final matches of the European season I’d initially had high hopes that Jonny Wilkinson or Brian O’Driscoll might make the trip for one last game before retirement. They didn’t though. In fact, I didn’t even see any speculation that either of them might make an appearance. I’m not sure that I’d have been so scrupulous had I been the promoter looking to sell tickets.
Jen and I arrived in Cape Town late on the Saturday morning, perfect timing for lunch at the waterfront. The forecast had been for snow which wasn’t something that I had contemplated when I’d booked everything up a few weeks earlier. I always expect the Western Cape to be warm and sunny. As it turned out, the forecast was wrong and the weather was just as I’d assumed it would be.
Our hotel had been preserved as far as possible in the style that it had been built one hundred and twenty years earlier. This potentially caused a problem as nowadays most guests expect en-suite facilites, something that wasn’t so important in the late nineteenth century.
I think I’d have just linked the bedroom to the bathroom with a door. Perhaps a Victorian style door. That’s just me though. What they had done instead was to knock a hole through the back of a wardrobe. I’m glad I wasn’t busting for a piss when we arrived as I doubt I’d have thought of opening all of the cupboard doors in the hope of finding a secret passage to the bathroom.
Whilst I was disappointed that there wasn’t a secret underground tunnel to Newlands stadium that you accessed via a revolving bookcase, it was easy enough to just follow the crowd ten minutes up the road. Not many of the fans appeared to be going directly to the game though, most of them being easily sidetracked by the prospect of a car park braai.
We were an hour or so early at the game but without having any braai equipment of our own we went in and took advantage of the stadium catering. The temperature had dropped a fair amount from lunchtime and it was probably too cold to be drinking beer. It’s rugby though and that’s what you do, so I had a few anyway.
Foodwise, there wasn’t much going on. I suppose they expect that everyone will have eaten in the car park. There was a biltong (dried meat) stall though that seemed to be doing good business. South African rugby draws most of it’s support from Afrikaners and I’ve a feeling that biltong does too. I don’t recall seeing anyone selling biltong at a football game over here. Perhaps that’s why you rarely see white fellas there, the prospect of having to eat their belt and shoes at half-time being too much for them to cope with.
In theory our seats were decent ones. They were down the side, beyond the 22 yard line and towards the back of the lower tier. We’d even bagged seats on an aisle to make trips to the bar easier. The only downside was that we were under a low overhang from the tier above and it blocked out the view of the sky. I could still see even the highest up and under kick, but I like to see the sky too.
Mind you, had the forecasted snow materialised I imagine I may have been a little more grateful for the cover. Despite the lack of sky, I liked the old-fashioned look of the Newlands ground, with stands that appeared to have been built at separate times and with a small standing section behind each set of posts.
The World XV didn’t have many names that I was too interested in apart from England’s Steffon Armitage. The English policy of not selecting players who turn out for French clubs means that this might be the nearest he gets to international rugby for a while. He did ok, as did the rest of his World XV side early on.
It wasn’t to last though as South Africa cancelled out the visiting side’s advantage by half-time and then ran riot after the break with another four tries in the second half. The game wasn’t of the highest quality, but that was to be expected with the minimal preparation time afforded to the World XV.
Perhaps one of the Super League teams would have provided better opposition. Or maybe a northern hemisphere club for a bit of variety. How about, say, the Heineken Cup winners, Toulon? I’d have got that last Jonny Wilkinson appearance then.