Duane Heath

Province, Bulls and Boks

2004-08-06 07:57

Cape Town - This week, it will have been five years since my grandfather died.

Bob de Haas was a larger-than-life figure who was no mean rugby player in his day, with a strength honed deep in the dark mines of the northern Free State.

As a boy growing up in Bloemfontein, I'd eagerly await his annual visits from the Natal South Coast to where he and my gran had retired. Bob would teach my brother and I how to catch and pass a ball, and when my father got transferred back to Durban, he'd wake us up at 04:00 and take us fishing on his favourite stretch of wild coast.

But to this day, one memory of him and I together stands out from the rest. It is of us watching a rugby match together on a cold Saturday afternoon in September 1982.

What I recall is that, for the first time, one of the teams wasn't dressed in green and gold, as had been the case the year before, when my dad woke me up with coffee and rusks to watch the Springboks take on the All Blacks in New Zealand.

No, this time round the jerseys were different, and I remember Bob getting excited when a team dressed in blue and white stripes ran out against another team wearing all blue. They were playing for some or other big famous trophy, and everyone was talking about "Province".

Bob told me, in between smoking his pipe and carving up strips of biltong for us to share, that the men in the hooped jerseys stood no chance against the feared "Blue Bulls". As much as he was hoping that his team would pull through, grandpa knew the outmuscled men from the Cape were up against it.

Victory against all odds

The 1982 Currie Cup final between Western Province and Northern Transvaal is pretty much my first memory of provincial rugby. It was also my first taste of victory against all odds - and I suppose if one can pinpoint the moment one falls in love with something, September 2, 1982 would be the day I began a passionate love affair with the oval game. And after the events of that day, which the history books show was an upset 24-7 win for Province at Newlands, clashes between the two old giants of South African rugby have always had a special place in my heart.

Recent history will reflect that the intense rivalry between the two sides in the 1970s and 1980s dimmed somewhat during the 1990s - especially with the emergence of Natal, under Ian McIntosh, and their often sour tussles with Western Province in recent years.

But as I write this, on the eve of another WP-Bulls clash, I can't help once again getting that sense of excitement I always did before a Currie Cup final, when the match would invariably involve those two sides in blue in a replay from one of my favourite childhood moments.

The sight of green- and black-jerseyed men flying into each other on the other side of the world strikes a chord with me and always will. But when I see all that blue run out onto a field of green, my mind goes back to that day nearly 22 years ago now.

As you read this, Anton Leonard and his Blue Bulls team will be high above you somewhere, on British Airways flight 6409 to Cape Town, on a mission to engage the old enemy at what will be a very wet and soggy Newlands. The men from Pretoria will face a struggling Province side bolstered by the return of Neil de Kock, Quinton Davids, Joe van Niekerk and Gaffie du Toit.

I'll no doubt be freezing as the two sides run out on Saturday evening, but my heart will be warm with the heat that only good memories provide. Five years may have slipped away since my grandad's passing, but come Saturday he'll be there next to me again. The excitement I shall feel at Newlands will have everything to do with the man who introduced me to the supermen with the blue and white hoops - and to the joys of rugby itself.

Send Duane your views on this column.

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