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'When you think they're done they rise up': Why Boks can shock the All Blacks

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Expert
24th September, 2021
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There are 23 or more reasons New Zealand should sail to an easy victory over their old and battered South African foe in their centurion Test.

Superior tactics, passing, morale, mana, form, line speed, dystopian hairstyles, accuracy, fitness, brotherly combinations, harmony, coaching stability, and angelic reputation.

There is one reason the Springboks may win.

Moelikheid.

Saffas — of all creeds and backgrounds and origins — can be difficult, troublesome, argumentative, and impossible to manage, unify, or gain even basic agreement from.

Tell a Saffa the sky is blue and be ready for a ‘no, actually the sky is not quite blue, hey, this is a common misconception from the powers that be, man, it’s actually not really blue, not always, but sometimes it can be blue, so maybe it is blue, but not in the way you say it is blue’.

Go into the bush at dawn, bash all day, skin and blood gone, and roll back into camp at dusk, and tell the Saffas around the fire you are tired.

South Africa prepare to take on the Wallabies

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

‘Ag no man, no ja no, you aren’t tired. The body tells you one thing but means another thing. In fact, hey, you are the opposite. When you felt strong today, then you were tired. Now you strong. Come have some brandy wine and you stay up all night.’

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Experiment even with sharing your deepest feelings.

‘I am so sad about losing my dog.’

‘No, no, ja, you not sad. I read an article about sadness by this Swiss scientist. Or maybe he was from Canada. Doesn’t matter. What he said was sadness is our imagination. Sad is actually happy, hey! So, every time you say you sad, you must say you happy. Give this oke another pork chop. He’s happy sad happy.’

Saffas also know everything about everywhere.

Affies: ‘So, Harry, I hear you moved to Texas. I must ask you a question, man. How do they build houses in Texas? What materials do they use, hey?’

Me: ‘Brick. All brick, Affies, even the little ones.’

Affies: ‘No, no, Harry. It’s not brick, hey. The houses, the actual houses, they not brick. Never.’

Me: ‘How many times did you go to Texas, again?’

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Affies: ‘No, I never went, like went-went. But I saw this show, and the police was chasing this guy, and he was losing his pants, but jeez-see-em he was fast, hey, and he was running in Houston or Miami but I think Houston, and these cops was on him but he went into a house and it was on and they started to throw blows and the guy, he was skinny, and his fist went through the wall. All the way through. Harry, so now tell us. How can this be brick?’

Even the use of the word ‘yes’ must first be preceded by a ‘no’ and vice versa, just to remind the other person of the possibility of disagreement, of moelikheid, of difficulty.

‘Did you catch a snoek today, oom?’

‘Ja no. No. Ja no, I almost. But he wriggled off the hook.’

‘Do you want milk with your tea?’

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‘No, no, no, ja. Please.’

‘Is he a good player, then?’

‘Jaaaaa, no, he’s not that good. Actually, kak.’

To add to the difficulty, ‘now’ in Afrikaans sounds the same as ‘no’ in English (‘nou’). And even when a Saffa says ‘now’ or ‘nou,’ it actually means in a little while, or a bit.

‘Nou’ is really more like ‘just now’, which means not now.

Reasoning with a Saffa is time consuming, because of these idiosyncrasies. One thing is for sure. You must make it seem like their idea. Or you will get nowhere.

The image of South African rugby players is well formed. English, French, Irish, and Japanese club owners throw the bank at Saffas because of the reputation: hard, tough, quiet, resilient, and long-suffering.

Lukhanyo Am of the Springboks preaprares for a restart with teammates

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

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Yes, but no.

Saffas talk. A lot. ‘Iemand ‘n gat in die kop praat.’

To persuade someone by ‘talking a hole in their head’.

Part of the persuasive technique for South Africans — and this is true of all the sub-groups — is to wear you out.

Much has been made of the length of Rassie Erasmus’ video critique of Nic Berry’s refereeing performance in the first Test of the Lions series. That was the short version!

Contrary to conventional wisdom, even the Boers on the Great Trek away from British rule of law did not agree with each other. The story of Afrikaner migration away from the coastal cities of Cape Town and Durban, into the interior, is a tale of a thousand deceptions, schisms, micro-disagreements, and miniature free republics.

Union is illusory and fleeting in the Republic. Even with rugby.

How can I illustrate this trait?

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Imagine Australia had won the 2019 World Cup. And then seen off a Warren Gatland-led Lions squad after not playing at all in 2020. The bright, fair, golden Wallabies would be as happy as they are now, but happier. Even if they dropped a couple of matches and dropped all the way down to number two, with a couple of Tests against number one to play. No worries, mate!

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Faf de Klerk of South Africa kicks the ball

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

In South Africa, the knives are sharp. Jacques Nienaber, his surname suitably disagreeable but his mannerisms far too agreeable for Saffa taste, is facing war on a dozen frontiers. After the Lions were tamed, and the Pumas put to sleep, the Wallabies jumped all over the place and kicked the Boks into little docile pieces.

The only Springbok who won both his personal battles was the quiet, brooding farmer Frans Malherbe (who won four scrum penalties and only lost one, never missed a tackle, and carried more than one of the wings).

The rest of the Boks seem grumpy. Shouting at each other. Looking away. Avoiding eye contact. Heads down and hands on hips.

Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard seem like they want to be in different and new republics.

Where is the true power in South African rugby? Facing trial, unpopular outside his own borders, and spitting defiance in cheeky tweets.

It has ever been thus for Bok rugby. The patron saints of South African rugby were irascible characters and seldom much loved.

The minute a hero is made, he is chipped away at, like Michelangelo’s marble. Then, he digs a hole. And never stops digging.

Where is the largest manmade hole in the world, without power tools? In Kimberley, South Africa. The only two competitors are also in South Africa, but Kimberley claims the Big Hole.

It began as a hill.

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In 1871, news spread of a diamond find at Colesberg, in the northern Cape. Prospectors, prostitutes, barflies, and diamond dealers descended on Griqualand West, along with diggers from all over the world. And they dug. They all dug in. Most would never leave, and perhaps their stubborn blood mixed into the brew of this cantankerous, contrarian nation.

Claims were staked. Diggers went deep. The hillock was no more.

The ‘pipe’ of the diamond seam was the target, but some diggers would dig up to the edge, and stop, just to make the next claim worthless.

Thirty thousand men were digging, day and night, as the mine grew more famous.

The sound of the bars and brothels brought a wild music to the veld, as if hyenas had grown human.

Diggers who struck would see a diamond merchant, walk out with banknotes they would use to light cigars and bathe women in champagne.

The deeper they dug, the more complicated it got. Also, everyone was fighting over claims: to the death.

A cat’s cradle of cables and ropeways linked the rim of a growing hole to the central claims.

Smaller claims amalgamated. The mining giants had their way.

Flooding and rockfalls ensued. In 1880, De Beers was formed and amassed eight million pounds sterling, fluctuation of prices ruined most diggers, and a Kimberley Club was formed. The mining escalated.

And the Big Hole happened. For three decades, the digging continued, until the hole was 215 metres deep with a perimeter of almost two kilometres. In 1914, after 14 million carats of diamonds had been extracted, the mine closed.

So, what does all of this have to do with the 100th Test between the All Blacks and the Springboks?

Ardie Savea of New Zealand is tackled by Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

On paper, on form, and on terms of logic, this is no contest.

Raccoon-haired Jordie Barrett is in the form of his life. Willie le Roux is in the Big Hole of his career. Jordie can kick a man in the face and have his card rescinded; if a Bok grabs an arm of a halfback in the act of passing, he is carded for slapping the ball, even if he didn’t, but it’s okay because he was offside once. Advantage All Blacks. Jordie can even outkick Frans Steyn, the Bok player 23, who has a rare 50-50 long record against the All Blacks in his career.

Will Jordan and George Bridge are angels flying in the air; Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi are not rated anymore, after letting the Wallabies score. The Boks’ best back is fallow, having been done by a training ground injury.

A few months ago, the carat claims by Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am to being the world’s best midfield partnership were de Beers quality. Now, they have been kerevied and lennied; plummeting to the depths. Meanwhile, a super sibling Rieko Ioane lurks, with his miraculously converted centre partner David Havili in top form. Will Am find his game? Can de Allende do more than duck his head into contact? The form book points to New Zealand, even if these men are not truly a 12 or a 13.

Beauden ‘Bok Beating Bastard’ Barrett is back against out-of-sorts Handre Pollard. TJ ‘Mossad’ Perenara squares off with F-off de Klerk. On the bench, it’s Damian ‘Troll’ McKenzie versus Elton ‘Where’s my Barber’ Jantjies. A mismatch.

The Bok pack, shorn of its best forward, the 2019 world player and also its Bomb Squad captain RG Snyman (he who was burned in Ireland by a bomb) as well as its belligerence, tries to stem the tide of the other Ioane, the raging bull Ardie Savea, and a proper eight. On paper, only Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, and Malherbe would seem to have the wood on their opposing players.

But, let’s go back to moelikheid.

Nobody has the Boks winning this one.

Losing two straight to the Wallabies knocked the Boks for a loop.

Gone is the swagger. The bookies have run away.

The All Blacks swept the same Wallabies aside who scored four tries in Brisbane against a flummoxed Bok defence, the same defence that had not surrendered two tries in 16 Tests.

Samu Kerevi of the Wallabies makes a break during The Rugby Championship

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

But let’s go back to 2018.

Erasmus was ready to resign as the Springboks’ coach had they not beaten New Zealand in Wellington that year.

We all know what happened. A 36-34 Rugby Championship win over New Zealand in September 2018. A win nobody saw coming.

The Boks had lost to Australia and Argentina going into that Test. Erasmus had never lost three straight matches as a coach at any level.

He told the press: “I thought if I lose three games in a row, I don’t deserve to be the Springbok coach. We had a great chat and I said if I am preaching that we must be consistent, but we’re losing to Argentina and Australia and now we lose three in a row, then I’m out of here.”

Win, the Boks did. With a light loose forward (Warren Whitely), Elton on the bench (playing a good looking 10-12 combo with Pollard in the last quarter), Barretts making and conceding tries, an off night from the tee by the All Blacks, and an interception. Whitely ran down TJP. Willie outplayed Jordie. And the rush defence did just enough to disrupt McKenzie at the last.

What if we are watching that famed cussedness, that ornery difficultness, that disunified feistiness return?

If the Boks win in Townsville, it will be for only one reason: when you say yes, they say no. And when you think they are done, they rise up.

Go Boks. Take it. Confuse the rugby world yet again. One more strange tale for a strange nation never fully at peace and never comfortable on top. Keep digging in places you shouldn’t. Argue until there’s a hole in all our heads. Hit and keep hitting. Run and keep running. Chase lost causes. Never smile until the end, and even then, reluctantly. And find that moelikheid again. Make good trouble. Upset the barrel. And keep saying no, even if it is clearly yes.

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