The South African Rugby Legends Association (Sarla) hosted a meeting of the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cup champions at the Southern Sun hotel in Grayston Drive, Sandton, Johannesburg, on Thursday evening.
It was an opportunity for Francois Pienaar’s legendary side to congratulate the guys who had brought home our second title. I must admit, I had a lump in my throat but it turned out I’d eaten treble my quota of oysters.
It was also an opportunity for Sarla to explain to the Springboks, past and present, how important a role they can play in social upliftment in South Africa.
It started with a speech from former Springbok hooker John Allen, Sarla CEO, and, together with Gavin Varejes, the driving force behind the organisation. He outlined how important it is for the Springboks to play their part in the future of rugby and the country after they have stopped playing.
John was repeatedly interrupted as the forwards explained some of the longer words to the back-line players.
Next up was the other driving force behind Sarla, president Gavin Varejes. Gavin has been tireless in his efforts to drive this initiative forward and together with John they have taken a fledgling organisation five years ago to what we saw in the short film that was shown.
It showed an organisation that has taken rugby to the non-traditional playing areas; that has run thousands of clinics and brought the game to tens of thousands of boys who were not exposed to the game or were less fortunate. It set out its plans for legacy parks to spread the game and bridge social divides.
It really is something of which Sarla and the former Springboks can be proud.
Before the event, Gavin asked me if I thought he should come clean and admit that he supported Man United. I told him that if it were me, I’d rather admit to buggering dogs … but I digress.
Jake White, whom I was thrilled to meet and express my personal gratitude for his part in the wonderful World Cup campaign, reminded the Springboks that in going forward you have to look back.
Tradition and the legends of the Springboks of yesteryear are carried forward to the next generation with pride. Each player who wears the jersey is aware of the giants who wore it in the past.
With Sarla, they will become an even greater source of pride.
The event closed with Johnny Clegg explaining that through sport all of us are able to identify as South Africans. It brings home to us all that which makes us one.
At this point I think I had Tabasco poisoning, which I didn’t want to mention on account of them desperately trying to figure out who had half-inched all the oysters.
And of course, as always, I was an ambassador for rugby. I told Francois Pienaar that the
“Sharks are shit” (why a Lion, with all their problems, would care escapes me). He bust me to Gary Teichman.
I did the only decent thing I could: I told him that over Varejes’s dead body would he touch me.
I mean, when all is said and done, the Blue Bulls showed the Sharks in the Super 14 final who the real power in South African rugby is. Let’s not kid ourselves; the Bulls had to carry the rest in France.
When the time for pictures came, I shlepped Ndungane, Habana and Olivier up to the William Webb Ellis for a snap. Can’t be too careful, might be the odd Shark climbing out of the woodwork …
Having written soccer columns for around five years, I can tell you that rugby players are a cut above. Everyone I met — Chester, Bryan Habana, Rob Louw, Gary Teichman, Francois and the rest — are thorough gentlemen. Joost van der Westhuizen is just a brilliant ambassador for the game: well spoken and dignified.
I chatted to Bryan Habana about that moment — the final whistle in Paris. He said it was just unbelievable, something you can’t explain. Considering he is rugby’s superstar, he really has his act together. Nothing is too much trouble: he signs autographs, poses for pictures and chats to you without attitude.
His next great ambition is to be part of the team that encounter the British Lions.
I wanted to warn him about lions, what with the problems he’d had jaaging against that cheetah, but I thought I’d better not. I don’t know why, but I keep getting this mental picture of Bryan’s mom in the dining room screaming through the window: “Bryan! Dis genoeg nou — los’ie cheetah! Kom in, jou aandete raak koud!”
Enter Bryan: “Ma, I just want to try and beat him once.”
“That’s fine, but the next time I catch you tying his back legs together …”
Besides, any Blue Bulls fan knows that Bryan actually beat the cheetah and was then robbed by the TMO (rumoured to have been Spreadsbury again).
It really was a great evening that confirmed to me that rugby players are a band of brothers, and that soccer players should just be banned.