Archive for the ‘Rugby’ Category

South Africa v Argentina, Saturday 8th August 2015, 5pm

September 9, 2015

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Id like to think I’m a pretty quiet person who doesn’t cause any annoyance to anyone. Maybe that’s not the case though. I remember being told off by Johnny Bramwell for talking at the back of a Kloot gig at The Knights in Middlesbrough a few years ago. That’s fair enough I suppose.

Mind you, he told me off at a more recent gig in Crewe as well for leaving before the end. Jen and I had been sat on a sofa right at the front of his Square One gig, but after being there for four hours and getting through a bottle of wine in each of those hours, I was feeling ready for bed.

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Apart from Johnny though, nobody ever tells me off. Except that is for the Afrikaner bloke in front of Tom and I at the Springboks game. Apparently we were laughing too much in our conversation. To be fair, the Kings Park Stadium was like a library, but it’s a rugby game! You go to the rugby for a drink and a laugh. We were only halfway through our first jugs as well, the miserable git.

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Considerate fellas that we are, Tom and I limited the laughing to whenever Argentina scored a try. Unfortunately for Mr Sensitive Hearing in front of us, that was far more frequently than the Springboks or the crowd had been expecting.

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I annoyed the old misery guts a bit more in the second half when I clambered over him to go for a piss, but it’s the rugby, there are generally more people in the toilets at Twickenham than there are in their seats.

He left just before the end, hopefully the Springbok defeat being responsible for his scowl rather than anything we’d done. If I see him at a Kloot gig someday I’ll buy him a beer and we can have a chat at the back.

South Africa v New Zealand, Saturday 25th July 2015, 5pm

September 7, 2015

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The Four Nations Rugby Championship for the southern hemisphere teams was cut a bit short this season due to the World Cup and so there weren’t the usual home and away fixtures. Fortunately the single All-Blacks v Springboks game was scheduled for Ellis Park and so Jen and I had the opportunity of going along.

Just like last year we stayed in the Maboneng district, an area close enough to walk to the game but with plenty of restaurants that can also be walked to. That’s a rare event on an evening and we took full advantage with a visit to an Ethiopian place on the Friday night.

For a pre-match lunch on Saturday I ordered rib-eye steak, but what I think I actually got was a rib of beef. Either was it was pretty good. I’ll miss steaks like that when we’ve gone.

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We got to the ground early enough to be able to queue for beers. At one stage I think the line was around twenty yards long and four people wide. Best to buy your beers a few at a time then.

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As we sat with our drinks in the concourse, a couple of blokes in their seventies staggered past. One was in a New Zealand shirt, the other in the green of South Africa. They were so ratarsed that they relied upon each other to stay upright. I d like to think that I’ll still getting in that state when I’m their age.

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The game was sold out and we had lower tier tickets in one of the corners. The view was ok, certainly better than last year when we were up in the back row of the upper tier.

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South Africa were coming off a defeat to Australia and put a decent effort in against the visitors. They were leading going into the final stages but that rarely counts for anything against the All-Blacks who, as they so often do, nicked it at the death.

Twenty minutes after the final whistle we were in a roof-top bar making the most of an opportunity for a night out in town.

Durban Sharks v Western Force, Saturday 28th March 2015, 5.05pm

May 10, 2015

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We’d had completely different plans for this Durban weekend. The South African FA had announced a friendly against Argentina and we’d intended to travel on the overnight posh train. As you might have come to expect it didn’t turn out quite as we’d hoped.

Firstly the Premier Classe train service between Johannesburg and Durban was discontinued and then, after I’d booked flight tickets instead, the South African FA revealed that they’d decided not to bother with the Argentina game after all. Instead, they would play Nigeria. So, no Messi, although he would probably have played little more than a cameo in a friendly anyway. On the plus side, Nigeria meant Ken Omerou and he’s near enough a Boro player.

It wasn’t to be though as the South African FA then decided to switch the venue for the game from Durban to Nelspruit. Nelspruit! It’s nearly seven hundred kilometres away from Durban. I can understand that there might have been problems, probably financial, in getting the Argies over, although I’d have preferred that they addressed them before announcing the fixture, but moving the game against the replacement opponents seven hundred kilometres didn’t seem to have much to justify it.

Fortunately there was other stuff going on in Durban and we revised our Saturday plans to include a morning walk at the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve followed by the Super Rugby game between the Sharks and Western Force.

We didn’t see much on the ten kilometre hike. A few zebras and plenty of bugs but the monkeys that we’d watched on our last visit were nowhere around.

I don't recall seeing anything like this on my Dad's cabbages.

I don’t recall seeing anything like this on my Dad’s cabbages.

A twenty-minute walk along the seafront took us to the Kings Park stadium. We arrived ten minutes or so before kick-off and it was still fairly busy outside.

Kings Park Stadium

Kings Park Stadium

We had seats in the Western Stand, which looked quite a lot older than the much taller and steeper Eastern Stand opposite. Getting a drink was easy enough, with two bars servicing the upper section. It was good to see that the Sharks management understand that when you go to the rugby you have a drink. We’ve got a few fellas at work who follow the Bulls, despite their policy of making you drink in a field outside of the ground. Madness.

View from the Western Stand.

View from the Western Stand.

A couple of minutes into the game a pigeon sitting up in the roof crapped on Jen. It missed her head but left a Wagon Wheel size deposit on her jeans. Fortunately the crowd probably wasn’t more than seven or eight thousand and we were able to move to seats that didn’t have pigeons loitering above.

Half-time.

Half-time.

The game itself was fairly poor with both sides making frequent handling and kicking errors. If I was a supporter of either side I imagine I’d have been pretty frustrated with the performance. As it is, I don’t give a toss who wins these games and am there purely for that odd moment of skill that makes it all worthwhile.

Moses Mahiba to the right.

Moses Mabhida to the right.

I suppose the best bit of the action was a Shark’s try from Lwazi Mvovo. As the home side ran out 15-9 winners I couldn’t help but glance over to the nearby Moses Mabhida stadium. It’s where I should have been watching Messi.

 

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

October 19, 2014

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.

 

South Africa v Argentina, Saturday 16th August 2014, 5pm

August 28, 2014

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This weekend saw the start of the Southern hemisphere version of the Six Nations Rugby Championship. It’s just four nations taking part down here though, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. It seems a bit harsh on the likes of Fiji and Western Samoa, but I don’t imagine they bring much to the table by way of telly money.

I like the inclusiveness of the northern hemisphere Six Nations tournament, particularly the insistence that, despite being crap at rugby, Scotland and Italy can continue to participate so that the fans of the proper teams can enjoy a weekend in Edinburgh or Rome.

The 2014 competition kicked off with a draw between New Zealand and Australia which I watched on the telly whilst Jen and I had lunch somewhere. The other fixture of the weekend saw South Africa host Argentina at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria and so we popped along to watch that one live.

We’ve been to the rugby at Loftus Versfeld before and so I now know how it works. There’s a small bar inside the ground, but you can‘t take your drinks away from it. Far better to drink on the field outside and then head in just before kick-off.

Outside drinking.

Outside drinking.

I’d bought tickets for the stand nearest to the outside bar and shortly before kick-off we went in through gate eight to our seats in Row A of the upper tier. They were fine but our view was slightly obscured by a safety railing and so next time I’ll probably go for Row B.

The Argentinian national anthem was largely ignored by the crowd, most of whom continued to chat away indifferently. The South African tune was better received with quite a few of the home fans joining in. I’ve listened to a lot of different anthems lately and have concluded that most of them are absolute bollocks. Why do we bother with them?

If we are going to keep on with the nationalistic nonsense then lets at least update it a bit. I’d quite like to hear The Jam’s ‘Liza Radley’ sung before England matches. Weller seems a pretty good example of Englishness to me, can you imagine a packed Twickenham and a line of twenty-three burly players bellowing out the rising crescendo of the last couple of lines?

“She’d kiss my face and say love means nothing at all,

She’d kiss my face and say life means nothing at all”

Maybe just me then.

The rain started as the anthems finished and unfortunately our front row seats in the upper tier were beyond the shelter of the roof. Luckily the game was nowhere near sold out and so we just moved upwards until we were under cover. As the rain got heavier and the wind blew it inwards we kept moving further back. Eventually we were perfectly placed to the extent that any further back and we’d have felt the rain from behind.

The view from in the dry.

The view from in the dry.

My mind wandered back to an Scotland v England clash at Murrayfield that my friend Paul and I had been to a few years ago. We’d hiked up Arthur’s Seat on the morning before the game and had been caught in similar torrential rain. As we were only in Edinburgh for the day we had no spare clothes and had to pop into Jenners for a complete new set each.

Our seats at the ground that day were exposed to the elements and once the rain returned we decided to skip the remainder of the game and clear off to watch it in the pub instead. No way could we have turned up soaking wet for a second time at Jenners.

I'm not sure if I've ever been wetter.

Arthur’s Seat – Possibly the wettest I’ve ever been. Except for in the bath.

My mind also wandered to the feral kittens that live beneath our decking. I wasn’t sure if they’d ever been rained on before. If they had, it won’t as been anything like as heavy as this rain.

I’ve taken to feeding them tins of pilchards, which strikes me as somewhat indulgent when you consider that at twenty rand a tin, pilchards wouldn’t be something that a lot of the locals could afford to buy to eat themselves.

To tell the truth, I’d feel awkward giving tinned pilchards to random locals and have even less desire to watch some African fella eating them on the patio. I enjoy it when the cats turn up for their tea though.

There's four altogether, plus the parents.

There’s four altogether, plus the parents.

Anyway, the game. The heavy rain made ball handling difficult and standing up even harder. South Africa opened the scoring with a first minute try and then the sides traded a couple of penalties each in a 13-6 home win.

View from the back of the stand.

View from the back of the stand.

We stayed until the end in the hope that the rain would stop and thankfully by the time we left it was down to the odd spot of drizzle in the air.

 

 

Valke v Boland Cavaliers, Saturday 5th July 2014, 2.30pm

July 22, 2014

1 - VALKE V BOLAND

Last Saturday tea-time I needed to be at the airport to pick up Jen as she returned from the trip that she’d taken to the US whilst I was in Brazil. Quite handily I’d noticed that there was a Currie Cup rugby game going on in nearby Kempton Park and since I was going to be over that way anyway, I thought I’d go along.

Whilst I had the address of the Barnard Stadium, my sat nav had never heard of it and neither had the blue dot on my phone. Fortunately I spotted a grandstand as I was driving around and when I got up close I was relieved to see I was at the right place.

It was ten rand to park my car in a nearby field and then thirty rand for a ticket.

The ticket office

The ticket office

My ticket was number 486, but it didn’t look as if there were anything like that number of people inside the ground. I’d estimate that there were around two hundred spectators which I thought wasn’t too bad considering that it was absolutely bloody freezing.

I’ve been getting a bit complacent with the winter weather here. Whilst it’s generally below freezing as I drive to work in the dark in the early morning, by mid-day the temperatures are usually up around 20C. In fact, I’d only worn a coat on this occasion so that I’d have a pocket to put a camera in. It’s as well that I did, or it would have been a short visit.

I'm getting geeky about tickets these days.

I’m getting geeky about tickets these days.

The big grandstand that I’d spotted from a distance was supplemented by uncovered terracing to either side of it. There was also terracing around the other three sides of the stadium, although very few people were watching the game from those areas. I’d missed the kick-off due to my problems in finding the stadium and Valke were already 7-3 down.

The view from low down.

The view from low down.

I recognised the name of the visiting team, Boland Cavaliers, and remembered that I’d seen them get hammered at Swellendam in March in the Community Cup. I’ve not really grasped the eligibility requirements to enter the various competitions but I’m confident that the Currie Cup is a higher standard than the Community Cup, at least in the latter stages.

I’d also liken the Currie Cup to the English FA Cup in that it has a great history to it but now suffers from the priority given to Super Rugby in the same way that winning the FA Cup ranks somewhere below qualifying for the Champions League or even avoiding Premier league relegation for some teams. However, it does give a chance to sides like Valke and Boland to qualify for a game against the big boys later in the season.

The view from higher up.

The view from higher up.

The pitch didn’t look ideal for rugby, with very short dried out grass that was so lightly coloured that the lines were marked in red. I’ve seen greener cricket wickets. Maybe the groundsman was worried that the dry pitch would catch fire if the grass was kept any longer.

Roadside fires are commonplace this time of year. A stray cigarette or a discarded bottle will lead to whole fields burning down to stubble. I quite enjoy driving past these fires and will usually wind a window down to better appreciate the heat and smell.

When I was a kid, the local vicar would often dump and burn wreaths on a big pile of hay at the back of the vicarage. I’ve no idea if the hay was his, but it would smoulder away for ages. If ever we saw this we’d always try to stamp it out. No idea why, but we did. Often to the point where the plastic soles of our shoes would melt. These days though, I’ve usually got grown-up stuff to do and so I have to leave the fields to burn.

The main stand.

The main stand.

In the second half I left the main stand and had a walk around the rest of the ground. The terracing to the other three sides of the pitch had a strange overhead structure. It was as if someone had decided to put up some shelter but then lost interest before the roof went on. It looked ideal for growing vines, which would at least provide some shade at certain times of year. Maybe some wine too.

Boland on the attack.

Boland on the attack.

Boland continued to add to their lead throughout the second half until a last minute consolation try for the home side cut the final deficit to 35-20, giving the impression that the game had been that little bit closer than it really was.

 

 

South Africa v World XV, Sunday 7th June 2014, 5pm

June 28, 2014

Newlands 1

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.

"I'm just going for a dump in the wardrobe, dear"

“I’m just going for a dump in the wardrobe, dear”

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.

It's almost compulsory.

It’s almost compulsory.

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.

Better than a Wagon Wheel, I suppose.

Better than a Wagon Wheel, I suppose.

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.

I cropped the overhanging roof out.

I cropped the overhanging roof out, but you can see its shadow.

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.

View from a bit lower down.

View from a bit lower down.

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.

 

Toyota Cheetahs v Chiefs, Saturday 5th April 2014, 3pm

April 23, 2014

1 - opening shot

Bloemfontein is a five hour drive from where Jen and I live in Gauteng and if I thought sensibly about it, it’s probably a bit too far to travel to for just an overnight stay. Thing is though, I’d seen that there was a First Division football game taking place on the Saturday, followed by a Premier league match on the Sunday.

What made it more attractive was that the First Division game was between the bottom two teams, Roses United and Blackburn Rovers, teams that when the inevitable relegation to the Second Division happens may as well have vanished from the face of the Earth.

With that in mind, we set off early for Bloemfontein. It wasn’t a particularly interesting drive, plenty of open spaces with not much going on in them. Jen spotted some giraffe in the distance but I saw nothing more exciting than the odd bit of roadkill.

After five hours of driving I’d had enough and the prospect of continuing on another half an hour to the Kaizer Sebothelo stadium at nearby Botshabelo held little appeal. Or more specifically driving there and then driving another half an hour back into town after the game held no appeal. It was time for Plan B, which was to check straight into our hotel and then walk the few hundred yards to the Free State Stadium for some Super Rugby instead.

Free State Stadium.

Free State Stadium.

The hotel that I’d booked us into advertised itself as being inside a zoo, with a view of elephants through the room windows. We didn’t see any of those, mainly because we had a big tree outside of our window blocking the view, but also because I don’t think there were any elephants.

We had a look through the window at the end of our corridor and were rewarded with some sort of nondescript bok with just the one horn. And I don‘t mean one horn like a unicorn, I mean one horn because the other had fallen off at some point.

The situation was redeemed by fighting squirrels. There were three of them, although I suspect just the one was the troublemaker. The hotel would have been better off advertising them rather than elephants as I was tempted to move to Plan C and just watch the squirrels scrap it out for the rest of the afternoon.

"Get into 'em"

“Get into ’em”

Good as the squirrels were, we set off for the rugby and after a walk through a shopping mall that seemed a lot further than the hotel had claimed, we arrived at the Free State Stadium. I asked at the ticket office for tickets in a drinking stand with shade. “No problem“ she said and promptly sold us two sixty rand seats in the sun.

Even with tickets, it wasn’t easy to get in and we were turned back at the first gate we tried on account of my camera. Apparently it was too big. I wouldn’t care, but it’s not some big professional effort. It’s not even a proper DSLR, it’s just a poxy bridge camera.

We politely accepted the decision and made our way along to the next gate where we avoided the bag search. There’s always a way around these little hurdles.

After discovering our shaded seats were in the sun we found an alternative spot in the shade and waited for the teams to emerge through a guard of honour provided by a dozen bikers. I bet the groundsman loved that. Maybe they could have farmers with their ploughs next week.

Ideal for the playing surface.

Ideal for the playing surface.

Anyway, with the game underway and a beer in my hand everything eventually felt right with the world. For those interested in the stadiums, this one was built in 1995 for the Rugby World Cup. It also staged half a dozen games at the 2010 football World Cup, including the game where Germany beat England 4-1. We were sat at the end where Lampard’s disallowed ‘goal‘ happened.

We were supposed to be sat in the stand to the left.

We were supposed to be sat in the stand to the left.

We’d seen the Chiefs the week before in Pretoria and they’d looked a decent side on that occasion. They struggled in the first half though  as the Cheetahs, who had never beaten the Chiefs, seemed to be able to score at will.

The game looked over at half-time with the home side 34-10 ahead.

A sole first-half try for the Chiefs.

A sole first-half try for the Chiefs.

It was a different story after the break as the visitors gradually clawed their way back into the game. At one stage the Chiefs had reduced the deficit to a single point before a couple of Cheetahs penalties gave the home side a seven point advantage.

The Cheetahs were still seven points up with just thirty seconds to go on their own line out. Instead of killing the ball and then booting it out once the hooter went, they somehow contrived to lose possession to the Chiefs who kept the ball alive for another three minutes before scoring under the posts.

The view towards the other end.

The view towards the other end.

The easy conversion gave the Chiefs their second last-ditch draw in a week and resulted in a stunned silence as the crowd left the stadium. We made our way back to the hotel where there were still no elephants and the squirrels seemed to have made up with each other.

 

Bulls v Chiefs, Saturday 29th March 2014, 3pm

April 14, 2014

1 - opening shot

Despite the rugby season being well underway these days, I’ve been trying to prioritise football and cricket. Mainly because I prefer them, but also because I can save the rugby games for the winter when the other two sports are taking a break.

At the weekend though, I’d spotted that the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria was hosting games on consecutive days, with a Super Rugby match on Saturday afternoon and then a Premier League football game on the Sunday. Pretoria is only about three quarters of an hour drive from where Jen and I live, but I booked us into a hotel close to the ground so that I could have a few scoops during the rugby.

See, two games.

See, two games.

It was an easy enough walk to the stadium from the hotel and despite all the scare stories that I’ve heard about wandering around in Pretoria it seemed safe enough. A few of the locals were renting out their drives for parking, others, perhaps not so local, were charging for guiding cars onto any available bit of land and then ‘looking after them’.

There were plenty of stalls selling food,mainly steak and burgers, whilst the main access road to the stadium had a variety of stands selling Bulls merchandise. Hats with cow horns on seemed a popular item.

Plenty of flags and shirts too.

Plenty of flags and shirts too.

I’d heard from a fella at work that there were restrictions on drinking in your seat at the rugby, but I remembered that when I was at the Ellis Park game last year that there were people in a posh section in front of us who seemed to be consuming an unlimited supply of beer throughout the game. With that in mind I booked seats in the most expensive part of the ground, paying 450 rand a pop compared to the 70 to 150 rand everywhere else.

We got into the stadium an hour or so before kick-off and it turned out our seats weren’t so special after all, they were close to the tunnel but weren’t sectioned off or anything. Two rows back or a few seats along we could have had a similar view for a third of the price.

The view from the not so cheap seats.

The view from the not so cheap seats.

At that point we headed off to the bar only to be told that not only could we not drink in our seats, we couldn’t drink anywhere in the stadium. How could that be right?. It’s rugby, you are meant to watch it with a pint in your hand. And so to recap. I’d booked a hotel room for the night to avoid having to drive and then paid three times over the odds for my seat only to be sat drinking Coke. Wonderful.

Loftus Versfeld is quite an old stadium, dating back about a hundred years, but with plenty of modifications over that time, notably a few dozen executive boxes, which you won’t be surprised to hear were packed with people partying. Gits.

You can see some of those boxes in the background.

You can see some of those boxes in the background.

The first half was pretty tight with the Chiefs going in at the break just a single point ahead. Star of the show was Bulls lock Victor Matfield who, after two years in retirement, has taken up playing again. It will be interesting to see if he regains his Springbok spot.

In the second half the Bulls put a bit of pressure on the visitors and with five minutes left were a comfortable twelve points ahead. It wasn’t enough though and a couple of tries, the last of which was converted from the touchline with the final kick of the game, enabled the Chiefs to snatch an unexpected draw.

Chiefs on the attack.

Chiefs on the attack.

There was better news on the beer front as when we left the ground we discovered a field with a bar in it. I made up for the lack of drink inside the stadium by having a few cans as we listened to some 70’s tribute band blasting out Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival hits.

If they’d played anything by Mott The Hoople it would have pipped that ELO tribute act from a couple of months ago to gig of the year so far. They didn’t and so found themselves in second and last place.

Finally, a beer.

Finally, a beer.

So, lessons learned. Turn up early next time, drink outside and then buy a seventy rand ticket for the East Stand, which is the one closest to the bar in the field.

 

 

SWD Eagles v Regent Boland Cavaliers, Saturday 22nd March 2014, 3pm

April 1, 2014

swellendam mountains

I got a bit lucky with this game as Jen and I had planned a trip to Cape Town that initially didn‘t coincide with any sporting fixtures. However, a late switch of venue for a Vodacom Cup rugby game from George to Swellendam coincided very nicely with our arrival in town and meant that I could get my fix of live action.

We’d set off three days earlier, catching the overnight train from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. It was a pleasant enough journey, mainly due to us being in the posh part of the train. We spent twenty-odd hours meandering towards the coast with plenty to eat and drink and with very few other passengers around to spoil things.

It’s getting on for thirty years since my inter-railing days and nights spent on a train seem much quieter these days. There’s far less vomiting out of the windows for a start.

That station had seen better days.

That station had seen better days.

The view from the lounge carriage varied considerably. At times we’d pass shanty towns, or as they tend to be known ‘informal settlements‘. The main source of fun for the small kids at those places seemed to be hurling rocks at the train.

Further on in the journey we spooked a few ostriches, some of which were bright enough to know that they wanted to run, but not that they wanted to run away from the train rather than sprinting alongside it. If they had bigger brains then they’d probably have thrown rocks too.

We were in the purple bit.

We were in the purple bit.

We picked up a car at Port Elizabeth and just kept the sea on our left until we got to Plettenburg Bay. There’s a National Park there, Robberg, and so the next day we were able to go for a hike. The six mile trail was described in some of the reviews as strenuous and that was a fair summary, with the path diverting up and down from the beach to the cliff tops far more than I’d hoped.

Nice scenery though.

Nice scenery though.

It took us four hours to complete the circular route, although that was with plenty of pauses to look at the seals, dassies and lizards together with plenty of other pauses for me to get my breath back after each scramble,

The next day we headed for Oudtshoorn. I’m not really sure why most people would go there, but we went because it has a few ostrich farms nearby. Or more specifically, ostrich farms that let you ride the ostriches.

Sadly, I was too heavy, although it did occur to me that the opportunity to ride an ostrich could provide the best incentive ever to drop two or three stones. I did think about lying about my weight, but thought better of it after having cast my mind back to a swimming with dolphins experience in Florida a few years ago where I came close to drowning Flipper.

Jen was light enough for ostrich riding though and was soon hanging on for dear life as James ran around the pen as if someone had told him a train was coming. James? Yes, James. I’ve no idea what an appropriate name for an ostrich is, but surely it can’t be James.

"Home, James"

“Home, James”

Saturday meant that it was time for the rugby game. Swellendam is one of those picturesque Western Cape towns with a few buildings dating from the nineteenth century. The tourist leaflets describe it as being the third oldest town in South Africa, although I suspect that they were referring only to towns established after the Europeans arrived. It’s hard to believe that there weren’t any towns in South Africa before then.

The hotel that we were booked into turned out to be less than ten minutes walk from the ground and so I had a wander along shortly before kick-off. If anyone was taking money on the gate they must have missed me sauntering in.

I was too late for a seat in the small main stand and so I stood for a while in the shade next to the clubhouse before making my way around to some seating on the opposite side of the pitch.

The main stand.

The main stand.

The rest of the ground was fairly full, as much with cars as anything. The perimeter fencing was lined with people partying and whilst there wasn‘t any alcohol on sale there didn‘t appear to be any restrictions on bringing full cooler boxes to the game.

Park where you like.

Park where you like.

One thing that did surprise me was the racial make-up of the crowd. Rugby is still seen as a predominantly ‘white‘ sport over here with football being ‘black‘ and cricket ‘mixed‘. At Swellendam though, I’d say that the crowd was 95% black. Maybe there isn’t a local football or cricket team to divide loyalties.

View from near the main stand.

View from near the main stand.

I’ve been to quite a few scenic grounds in the past few years, there are plenty in Korea and Iceland that come to mind, but Swellendam Rugby Club can’t be far behind many of them. I’ve no idea which mountains provide the backdrop to the pitch but they were well worth giving up a spot in the shade to have them in view.

Big hills.

Big hills.

As for the game? Well, it’s a while since I’ve seen lower level rugby and whilst I wouldn’t wish any harm to anyone it was refreshing to see the players letting loose with the odd haymaker now and again. The absence of cameras meant that disputes could be settled with a punch-up followed by a wag of a finger from the ref. I like it that way.

The standard was reasonable, although the ball was knocked-on a little more than I’m used to seeing on the telly. As for stand-out players, the home side had a prop who looked about five foot six tall and twenty stone. He was surprisingly mobile, although didn‘t last too long into the second half.

That's him, wearing number 25.

That’s him, wearing number 25.

Boland had the best of a tight first half and led narrowly at the break. It all went a bit sour for them after that though as the home side scored half a dozen tries to end up convincing winners. It wasn’t quite as entertaining as the ostrich riding, but it ran it close.