Duane Heath

Six years, seven games

2004-07-23 07:26

So, where were you in the early hours of Saturday, 25 July 1998 - almost six years ago to the day since the Springboks last beat the All Blacks on New Zealand soil? Did you stay up, waiting for the 04:30 kick-off? Or were you snoring away the night before as the black tide of history was turned by tackle after Pieter Muller tackle?

Personally, it had been quite a week. Broke and bored after blowing my hard-earned pounds in Durban, I had returned to London on the Tuesday before the big match, with fifty quid in my pocket and the promise of a couch to doss on in some old friend's dingy Zone 4 dive.

But things then took a turn for the better on the Friday before the Test, when I somehow managed to convince my old boss at the Guardian newspaper, from whom I'd won a tidy amount in bets in 1997 as the Boks swept through Europe, to give me my job back.

With work sorted, and my cousin coming to the rescue accommodation-wise, I headed into the city and bumped into an old rugby mate from back home. With no fixed plans, we headed to the Sports Café - the one place we'd heard was showing the game - at around 20:00 and proceeded to count down the five-and-a-half hours to kickoff by ordering a basket of chips and nursing the only beers we could afford.

I remember nodding off once or twice as the wait dragged on, but at the end of the day it was well worth the wait. Our celebrations through the empty city streets as the sun came up, waiting for the first tube home, remains one of my best rugby memories.

There are other "favourite fan moments" that come flooding back now. My brother Warren and I standing on a platform at Fish Hoek station on May 25, 1995, tired from a 24-hour drive from Durban, a biting south-easter eating through our layers, waiting for the train to take us to Newlands and the opening match of the World Cup.

Magical World Cup days

It doesn't feel like nearly ten years since I bought two tickets (at R850 each!) and then phoned my best friend Todd to see whether he'd be interested in driving us 1 600km down to Cape Town. It was all one crazy scheme, but then those World Cup days, so soon after the birth of the Rainbow Nation, were magical. It was a good time to be crazy.

Another memory: Two years ago, sitting on the floor of a rugby club in Copenhagen, Denmark of all places, watching the 2002 Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand after the first day of the Scandinavian 7's tournament. I'll never forget the look on everybody's faces when Piet van Zyl stormed onto the field - I had to spend the rest of the evening telling drunk Kiwis and even drunker Irishmen that no, I did not in fact know Mr Van Zyl!

Then there was the time in 1998 when I called in "sick" to work from a freezing hotel room in Glasgow, on the morning of the Springboks' opening tour match of their end-of-year tour, after jumping on the overnight train from London in a moment of impulsiveness. Through the icy air I watched Breyton Paulse score two scorching tries, as the world champions opened their account with a solid win in front of a handful of frozen spectators.

As rugby fans, we all have these wonderful moments stacked up in our memory banks. Win or lose, they're times to treasure. I'd love for you to tell me some of your favourite times. Perhaps I'll publish them in a future column.

'No master plan to defeat All Blacks'

Turning to the present, I've been asked this week what I think will happen against the All Blacks on Saturday. My honest answer has been I just don't know. But in looking for similarities (good omens?) in the build-up to this match and the 13-3 victory of 1998, I have discovered some interesting facts.

Gary Teichmann, in his book For the Record writes that there was "no master plan to defeat the All Blacks. Sometimes the only difference between winning and losing is a bit of confidence". The class of 2004 has that confidence.

At Athletic Park in 1998, Percy Montgomery and Carlos Spencer were the kickers. At Jade stadium in 2004, the same two men will once again be entrusted to slot the ball between the posts. Who will prevail this time around? Will history repeat itself? It certainly could if Percy kick like he's done all season.

This week, Bok coach Jake White has been adamant that the Springbok failures in recent years have been down to poor and inconsistent selection. Since being in charge, he's changed all that, and the wins (albeit against weaker opposition) have come. Six years ago, when White was part of the Bok staff under Nick Mallett, this same consistency bore fruit in a big way - you don't win 17 in a row by chopping and changing every week.

Edward Griffiths, in his book Joost: For Love and Money, summed it up best when he wrote of the class of '98: "Mallett's selection policy brought stability, and stability had brought stature."

In 2004, that stability has returned. Now all we need is a victory, and the "stature" Griffiths was talking about will return with it. For John Smit and company, the moment of truth has arrived.

So, where will you be on the morning on Saturday, July 24, 2004?

Send Duane your favourite Bok moments.

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