Duane Heath

Staging a revolution

2004-05-14 09:41

Cape Town - This column was going to be all about Hanyani Shimange and why he must play for the Springboks - and then a bunch of unknown students went and turned my rugby world upside down by staging a revolution.

For those of you who don't pick up the club rugby channel, I'll fill you in on what happened.

On an unforgettable afternoon at the Danie Craven stadium last Saturday, in a town with one foot still stuck in the past, a team outweighed by history, and manned by outmuscled underdogs, gave those who witnessed their heroics a glimpse into the future.

For the first time in 43 years, the student Intervarsity, when held at Stellenbosch, was won by the visiting UCT team. It was a revolution so dizzying that even poor Doc must've been spinning in his grave.

Ikeys coach John Dobson called his team's effort "good old-fashioned guts and determination", and he wasn't wrong.

In fact, I could eulogise about the skill levels, speed and bloody-mindedness of the players on both sides. It was a contest from which legends arise. The standard of play, the willingness to give everything for the badge above their heaving amateur hearts, was something you'll never see in the professional rubbish dump that is the Vodacom Cup.

I could go on, but to do so would be insulting to the men whom this column is ultimately about: Vakai Hove, Immaneul Mckenzie, Mpho Mbiyozo, Mwali Soul, and Khaya Sontsele.

Living legend

The record will show that Dobson's Ikeys took on and beat the mighty Maties in their own back yard with five black players in their starting XV. The coach told me it would have been six - as it was the week before when 'Varsity' demolished a strong Parow side - but SA Under-19 flyhalf Ish Dollie pulled a hamstring on the eve of the match.

Of the five, four were so-called black Africans.

Of the five, four played in the scrum.

Up front there was Hove, a flanker-turned front-rower and a living legend at Groote Schuur, a hulking muscleman at whom the students hiss "Fish" every time he goes on one of those trademark battering-ram bursts.

Sontsele, like "Fish", is part of the UCT furniture. He plays on the wing, but it was at fullback where he found his twinkling feet.

Mckenzie is the jolly, giraffe-like lock forward who brings might and magnitude to heart of the engine-room effort.

Mbiyozo and Soul are the brothers-in-arms of the back row. Mwali, the chunky blindside, is all brooding brimstone; Mpho is the marauding menace.

Mbiyozo's solo try against Stellenbosch will be spoken about until his children get sick of it. It was a classic, a pulse-stirrer and heartbreaker wrapped in one - and ultimately a match-winner.

'Mannetjies' facing the monsters

The five of them, on a wing and a prayer, were part of a side that headed into the heart of the heartland, on a mission impossible. They "sakked" in the scrums, soaked up desperate, dogged attacks on the line. And that line held.

History said it couldn't be done. The locals laughed when they saw the "mannetjies" their monsters were about to face. Some of the remarks were straight out of the dark days. None of it mattered: UCT 26, Stellenbosch 20.

So, what has this to do with Hanyani Shimange and the announcement of the Springbok team, in all probability this weekend?

Ask yourself that when you hear the Free State and Cats hooker's name being read out.

If you're white, like me, you'll feel instinct hijack even your most liberal-minded brain. Maybe just for a millisecond, but it'll happen. Conditioning will make things cloudy. Racial stereotypes are like a red-wine stain.

You see, maybe you believe the black players can play at the top level, and you pat yourself on the back for being a well-adjusted fan.

Hell, maybe you even believe they can play in the forwards. But Shimange? Can't throw straight. Floors? Too small. Andrews? Needs more time. Davids? Not on your life. God forbid the thought of having all four in the same pack! We wouldn't stand a chance! Just ask the Stellenbosch forwards, if you can find one who's dared to leave his room.

Black players can share the field with anybody. Black players can play in the forwards. Black players do not weaken rugby teams. Rugby teams with five or six black players can play stunning rugby. Ask John Dobson. Hell, ask Chester Williams.

Then again, don't ask anybody. Trust your own eyes. Khaya Sontsele, Immaneul Mckenzie, Mwali Soul, "Fish" Hove and Mpho Mbiyozo are doing what our minds refused to accept is possible - and it's all happening at a field near you.

Do you agree? Tell Duane what you think.

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