What would a Bok-England clash be without some needle?
The rugby promises to be uncompromising, while war of words will be brutal. It’s always been that way
The popular myth is that the Springboks’ dislike for England, and their motivation when they play against them, is extracted from feelings of injustice and revenge for the Boer War over a century ago.
Over the years some players, coaches and families might have used that as inspiration. Although it’s an easy hook to hang this rivalry on, there is only sporadic evidence that this is the case.
Nick Mallett talks of being an English-speaking player in the Western Province squad for the 1984 match against the touring England. He witnessed the team talk prior to the game by captain Divan Serfontein, invoking Boer War atrocities.Bok coach Rudolf Straeuli infamously had his 2003 World Cup squad stripped naked, and deposited in a pit in the freezing cold while speakers blared out God Save the Queen, at the ill-conceived Kamp Staaldraad. Considering his players were a century removed from the Boer War it was a ridiculous tactic to stir up hatred for a game of rugby.
But for those and other attempts to somehow make this into a proxy war, it’s a sporting contest and the reasons for the rivalry are probably much simpler.
For a start, England invented the game that their colonial subjects embraced and eventually surpassed them at playing. As the country that gave the world the sport of rugby there is a natural inclination for the students to show the master that they are better.But even that is a stretch. England have always been one of the stronger teams in a sport that can, until only recently, count its real heavyweights on the fingers of one hand.
The English game is awash with money compared to any other union in the world and they’re not afraid to show it. They are the team everyone loves to hate.
They have the most players, the best facilities, and a powerful voice at the main table of world rugby. When the Rugby Football Union (RFU) wants the All Blacks and Boks at Twickenham in November to swell their coffers, they usually get them.
On England’s infamous tour of hell in 1998, when Clive Woodward was rebuilding a team, he didn’t endear himself to his South African hosts.The Johannesburg hotel Saru put England up in, which had been used for almost every touring team since 1992, was deemed unfit by Woodward.
He demanded better accommodation and Saru politely refused, so he marched his team off to the eye-wateringly expensive Westcliff hotel and produced his own credit card to secure rooms for the 40-odd touring party. That was viewed as arrogant, which is a word that is usually pinned on the England team.
Their recent successful attempt to fast-track Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields into their current squad is widely viewed as another example of England’s arrogance and disregard for the spirit of the game, more than the regulations. The RFU found a way past the rules and used it to snare a good player, and to hell with the spirit of the game.
But they’re not alone in this. New Zealand and more recently Australian rugby have been raiding the Pacific islands to recruit entire families with an eye to one day reaping the rugby talent.
It’s easy to throw labels about, but in reality England stylistically are the closest to the Springboks.They love physical confrontation and over the years have never shied away from trying to match the Boks’ power game. There is a grudging respect between two sides that generally favour physicality over finesse and gore over guile.
The rugby between SA and England has often been of a high standard. For the Boks, beating England ranks just below beating the All Blacks and British & Irish Lions.
In 38 Tests between the nations the Boks have won 23 and England 13 with two draws. Only the All Blacks and Wallabies have a better winning ratio against SA.
In SA, England have only won three of 13 Tests, the last in Bloemfontein in 2000. Interestingly all three of their wins in SA have come on the highveld – in Johannesburg 1972, Pretoria 1994 and Bloemfontein 2000.
Two of this year’s three Tests are on the highveld and given the state of the Boks going into the series, England, despite some troubles of their own after a poor Six Nations, are in confident mood.
As always the rugby promises to be uncompromising and closely contested on the field, while off it the war of words will also be brutal.
It’s always been that way.