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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.