Let’s ignore reality of the events of ‘95

2008-09-26 00:00

IN the introduction to his recently released book, Playing the Enemy, John Carlin notes that “more than once, people remarked that the book felt more like a fable or a fairy story”.

Perhaps that is because this account of the 1995 Rugby World Cup does indeed read like a fairy story. In simple terms, the British journalist has taken the story of Nelson Mandela, Francois Pienaar and their No.6 jerseys and turned it into a fuzzy faction fable fit for Hollywood.

That, of course, is precisely what it has become. Carlin’s text was presented to actor Morgan Freeman, who sold the yarn to Warner Bros, and filming will start early next year on Human Factor, a film to be directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.

Stand by for some amazing “Sarrff Effrican” accents and a healthy dose of poetic licence.

Not much has been allowed to get in the way of Carlin’s pumped-up saga of what he calls “the game that made a nation” and, once the American ponytails have finished with the script, who knows what will emerge.

This is not a problem. William Shakespeare was among the first to make an honest living out of seizing upon an event in history, applying a little polish and creating dramatic entertainment.

So if we can accept Carlin’s idea that when Mandela stepped on to the field before the 1995 World Cup final, “never before had he appeared in front of a crowd like this”, and overlook the fact that the president had attended the Test against England at Loftus Versfeld the previous year...

If we can accept the concept that, amid the excitement at Ellis Park on June 24, 1995, there was a genuine chance that Mandela was “going to be shot or blown up by right-wing extremists” when, in fact, nobody outside his personal protection unit even mentioned the possibility at the time ...

If we can accept the comment that the Springboks “did not play a serious international match for 11 years” before August 1992, and forget the 1982 series against the Pumas, the 1984 series against England, the stirring 1986 series against the New Zealand Cavaliers and others ...

If we can accept that Joel Stransky played for a team called “Natal Province”...

If we can accept that, in July 1994, the Springboks “lost one game narrowly and drew another against the New Zealand All Blacks” when in fact the Boks were beaten in the first two Tests and drew the third, and generally given minimal chance of becoming world champions a year later ...

If we can accept that, in November 1994, SA “annihilated Wales with such style and passion that Kitch Christie declared himself convinced the Springboks could win the World Cup” when in fact the Boks scraped a win in the rain and the Bok coach was never so brash ...

If we can accept “all 16 teams taking part in the tournament went on parade at Newlands stadium” when in fact none of the other teams attended the opening ceremony ...

If we can accept the Springboks “celebrated after the opening match by drinking until four in the morning” and “a day later their heads were still the worse for wear” when in fact only a few players stayed out until after midnight and only a handful got drunk ...

If we can accept that, by scoring four tries in the quarter-final against Western Samoa, Chester Williams finally “lived up to what had appeared to be his somewhat inflated marquee billing” when in fact he had only just joined the squad after initially withdrawing with a hamstring injury ...

If we can accept that Mandela called Pienaar on his cellphone the day before the final, when in fact the call was made before the semi-final against France ...

If we can accept that most of the crowd at the World Cup final “looked as though they had stepped straight out of a Boer defiance rally” when in fact the spectators included a broad cross-section of South Africans and at least 15 000 international visitors ...

If we can do all this, sit back and relax — then we will enjoy the book and love the film.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby, general manager of SATV sport and involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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