South Africa v New Zealand, Saturday 4th October 2014, 5pm

1 - opening shot

The Southern Hemisphere rugby championship had been decided in New Zealand’s favour the previous weekend and so there was nothing official at stake in South Africa’s game against the All Blacks. It was still a clash between the top two teams in the world though and with less than a year to go to the World Cup it was bound to be competitive.

I’d watched last year’s game on the telly not long after arriving in the country and was determined that this time I’d see it live. So determined, in fact, that I’d booked our hotel near the Ellis Park stadium ten months in advance and then carefully checked the ticket selling site for weeks until they went on sale.

Our hotel in Johannesburg was one of those trendy ones, situated in what looked like a former factory and with bits of art everywhere. It was in the Maboneng Precinct which is a small area full of hipsters and the sort of cafes where they like to spend their time. Mind you, once you went beyond the area defined by beards, outsize spectacles and crap hair hidden by crapper hats it was an altogether different story.

Urban renewal stretched for no more than a block or two and it was only a short distance to the sort of streets where you could imagine Starsky and Hutch ploughing through cardboard boxes in their cars.

With the game not kicking off until five we had time for lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant. The food was pretty good although we had to wait ages for it to arrive. No wonder they are so skinny.

Outside our hotel.

Outside our hotel.

At four o’clock we set off for the match. It was only a twenty minute walk to the stadium as we were able to use the railway underpass to come out close to our gate.

Jen had her bag searched by a security fella, who on discovering my camera told her that she wasn’t allowed to take it into the stadium. I think he may have been looking for an easy life as when I raised an eyebrow he suggested a compromise whereby we took it in to the stadium but didn’t use it. Fair enough.

Ellis Park.

Ellis Park.

We were inside the ground forty minutes ahead of kick-off, which you would think would be sufficient for two or three leisurely pints. Not so. The fifty odd thousand capacity crowd all seemed to be queued up at the bar and we just had time to grab a couple of beers and take them straight to our seats.

Pre-match pints.

Pre-match pints.

I’d deliberately bought tickets in Row A of the upper tier, thinking that the seats would be high enough up to see the play unfold, whilst being at the front of the tier would mean that nobody would be sat in front of us. If only it were that straightforward.

We shuffled our way around the stand before realising that the rows werent the way I’d expected and Row A was actually the very back row, as far from the pitch as it were possible to be without being sat on the roof.

It was like being in the away end at Newcastle.

It was like being in the away end at Newcastle.

The crowd was a little more partisan than you’d usually see at the rugby to the extent that the haka was booed. A bit disappointing really. I’m used to South African rugby fans booing and whistling when the opposing team takes a penalty, but booing the haka escalated it to another level. Show some manners!

South Africa on the attack.

South Africa on the attack.

And the game? Well, South Africa built up a decent lead and then as they inevitably do the All Blacks pulled it back. It was looking like a respectably narrow defeat for the hosts until replacement fly half Pat Lambie kicked the winning penalty from inside his own half with a minute to go. I wonder what his nickname is? I hope it’s Lambieie.

The last minute kick from South Africa's own half drops over the bar.

The last minute kick from beyond half-way drops over the bar.

With the South African fans staying behind to celebrate we escaped the crowd and headed back to the Maboneng Precinct for more of the beardy people and an evening in a Senegalese restaurant.

 

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