Rod MacKenzie
Rod MacKenzie

The Tri-Nations rugby win and bad losers

It was one of the most magnificent tries I have ever seen. With not too many minutes left in the game All Black Danny Carter hoofed the ball across the field near the touchline and Richie McCaw expertly caught it and snaked past — with a few minor collisions — about three Bokke in the vicinity and — touchdown! — a lovely try in the corner. I hooted my appreciation, as did the Kiwi and Australian blokes sitting next to me in Malone’s pub on Tongren road in Shanghai, China. I loved watching the try as it was played two more times from different angles and would have loved to watch the play again. I am a Bok supporter but I thoroughly enjoy watching excellent play from anyone, regardless of the team. What he did surely not more than about thirty other people in the world can do. You don’t just nip past several Bokke who would virtually defend the touchline with their life unless you really are a superb, professional athlete who is highly talented and has spent many years honing your sporting skills. And lightning quick with opportunity.

At the end of the Tri-Nations Saturday game our Bokke still won, only by a narrow margin, 29–32 and the Kiwi and Aussie blokes — whom I did not know — shook my hand, expressing congratulations. We then chatted for a while about the sport and our different countries. My wife came in not much later for dinner and it became an enthusiastic crowd, with me the only South African. (Chookie is ex-Zimbabwean.)

Don’t get me wrong: I am a Springbok supporter and will always be one. The Kiwis will probably always remain my number two team and the times England wins will remain melancholic days. But I am more interested in the gentlemanly behaviour of the blokes watching that game. It was most refreshing, given the passion all the countries in the Tri-Nations have for their teams.

Actually, South Africans aren’t too bad when it comes to losing at a game of rugger but we still have an element that gets far too grouchy and sulky when we start losing in a series and then refuse to support the Bokke, which is when they direly need to be supported. I have even seen SA friends and acquaintances of mine get sulky and dikbek even when we win. “What’s the matter?” I would ask in incredulity. “We didn’t win by enough points,” came the sulk. Agh toe.

Pub owners in SA must sometimes be praying silently that SA wins. If we win, the typical SA pub is hammered with a riotous piss up of formidable note and a handsome profit for the night is surely made. If we lose, the pub, within half an hour of the game finishing makes a graveyard sound noisy.

Of course, some South Africans’ inability to handle losing is mild compared to England and her football. We lived there for a while and learned that you were taking your life into your own hands if you walked into pub supporting, say Manchester and you are wearing, say, a Chelsea sweater and the two teams are shortly about to play a game. The local pub we frequented would be visited by police a day or two before a big game and the coppers would advise the staff not to let in anyone but their regulars after a match.

Once, coming back from Portsmouth to Southampton by train from work after a big match had taken place between the two areas, my boss warned me to look sharp and not support any particular team on the train as often the trains were filled with drunk and disappointed or ecstatic supporters. He was truly concerned.

My point is, it was most refreshing to sit in a pub and discuss an electrifying game in such a friendly manner and the three of us were not supporting the same team. On the race issue, whenever I see Aussies and Kiwis supporting their teams, they show no interest in whether the players are European, Maori or Tongan. I am not saying all, or how many, Aussies and Kiwis are like that (I don’t know) but my experience of them in Shanghai is that they are good losers. They are really gentlemanly when it comes to losing to the finest: the lads in green and gold.

Let’s just keep it like that — gentlemanly losers in either orange or black, and the finest: the chaps in green and gold, hey?