The season is done and dusted. Time for some lightweight pondering.
The Brumbies will be facing a formidable foe when they take the field against the Stormers at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town on Saturday.
Round 13 sees one of the fiercest battles, with the Brumbies third overall on 32 points and the Stormers seventh on 30 points.
Against the odds (and my prediction), the Cheetahs upset the Stormers 25-17 in Bloemfontein in Round 12.
Statistically the Stormers should have won that match, but thankfully rugby is not all about statistics.
Last week’s upset win by the Cheetahs got me thinking about the South African mentality and never-say-die attitude.
It reminded me of an incident in 1998 when I visited Kings Park in Durban with former 70s All Black prop Jeff Matheson to watch the Springboks play New Zealand in the Tri Nations.
Down by 23-5 with 13 minutes to go, the Springboks had to score three tries to win the match – an almost impossible task against the All Blacks.
I made the mistake of turning to a lady on my right, kitted out from head to toe in Springboks gear, and casually remarked that it was all over for her lads. Instead of the casual friendly banter I expected, she turned to me and with utter contempt said, “What would you know about rugby you Aussie idiot.”
At this point, Jeff had proudly been wearing his All Black tie and feeling pretty pleased with the state of affairs. To his horror, we bore witness to one of the most amazing comebacks I have ever seen.
The Springboks exploded in the last 13 minutes with tries to Joost van der Westhuizen, Bobby Skinstadt, and finally James Dalton to snatch victory 24-23.
Not having the privilege of playing the Springboks in my era due to apartheid, and knowing first-hand how supremely difficult it is to beat the All Blacks at the best of times, this moment taught me a lot about the South African psyche.
In some ways I was disappointed not to have had the opportunity to face men of such magnitude and depth of character. It was one of the great moments in the history of rugby and the South African euphoria was palpable. I counted myself fortunate to have personally witnessed this extraordinary feat.
The lesson my South African supporter imparted so brusquely was simply this – never writer a South African off.
While I was taught the most salutary lesson, not to shoot my mouth off prematurely, I did get some measure of amusement from my New Zealand colleague, who was ready to hang himself with his All Black tie.
The Stormers vs Brumbies match on Saturday promises so much. Not only are the Stormers coming off a loss, so too are the Brumbies, having gone down narrowly to the Waratahs 10-13.
The differences this Saturday lie in the Stormers’ home-ground advantage, combined with the South African rugby mentality and fighting spirit.
On top of this, the Stormers scrum, which destroyed the Cheetahs last week, has been strengthened by the inclusion of lock Eben Etzebeth and Steven Kitshoff at loosehead. On the negative side the Stomers are without lock Ruan Botha, and outside centre Juan de Jongh is under an injury cloud.
For their part, the Brumbies have brought in Rory Arnold to combat the Stormers’ set piece, and Nic White who has missed the last month of Super Rugby. Not taking anything at all away from Christian Lealliifano, the Brumbies dearly miss Matt Toomua at 10. Robbie Coleman is a gutsy little player at 12 but the Brumbies are at their strongest when Toomua is 10 and Lealliifano is 12.
The Stormers may have been over-confident when they travelled to Bloemfontein, but there is no way this will be the case on Saturday. It seems that the greater the adversity, the greater the likelihood the South Africans will rise to the occasion.
For this reason, I’m going with the Stormers to edge out the Brumbies in a cliffhanger.