JJ Harmse

Love for rugby runs deep

2007-12-20 08:07

JJ Harmse

I had the privilege of spending some time in the 'deep south' of the Free State recently. A very quiet spot where cellphone reception was a luxury, not a given.

It is a fantastic place to gather your thoughts, especially at night when the stars are at their brightest. I spent some time on a farm near Jagersfontein where I once again realised how deep the love for the game of rugby runs among our nation.

Covering the game the way we do as journalists, one often loses the appreciation of the moment. Here in the south, attending a game in Bloemfontein, Kimberley or Port Elizabeth takes weeks of planning and preparation. People have to put their normal lives on hold for a weekend in order to attend a game of rugby.

Talking to some of the locals about their perceptions of the game and their expectations of what lies ahead, I was struck by the desperate need for information they have.

Concerned about the future

The staunch rugby fan is concerned about so many things. They want to know whether the new national coach will be a 'political' choice or not and if so, why? They are concerned about the future of the Springboks without the likes of Percy Montgomery and Os du Randt.

They want to know whether Pierre Spies will be back on the field soon and if Willem de Waal will be returning to Bloemfontein.

They are also intrigued by the fact that Rassie Erasmus has axed Luke Watson as captain of the Stormers. Again, the need for the real reasons is prevalent in their discussions.

Word of mouth is a powerful and effective tool in this region, yet no one is quite sure why such a step was taken. There are numerous rumours floating around and while most here see this as a step in the right direction, others feel that Rassie has just started his biggest battle ever.

Bigger than the game

No, it is not surviving the Super 14 or qualifying for the Currie Cup, but outlasting the Watson legacy down in the Cape.

No player is bigger that the game, but one did get the idea that Watson was becoming more than just a player. How much of that was his own doing, I don't know, but modesty and being humble were certainly not two things rugby journalists would ascribe to the former captain.

Yes, we need personalities and Watson certainly has a strong one, but we also need to treasure the real values of the game. The values that make people like Tom Visser travel hundreds of kilometres from his farm near Jagersfontein to attend a game. The hype surrounding Watson and what we saw with Joe van Niekerk certainly is not what Visser is expected to spend hours on the road for. Rugby needs real men, not prima donnas who feel they need to fight some moral cause on the field of play. It is about the team first, that is the crux of this wonderful game. Those who fail to understand that, or are not living that ethos, should step away. Or as in the case of Watson and the Stormers, be removed.

Real supporter

We are quick to blame the administrators. Yet, they are in their positions because of the rugby players in the game. Maybe the normal person in the street, who attends at least one match a year, or has a supporters' shirt or who follows the game on TV, should accept ownership of the game. Join a club; there are more than enough of those. Pay your subs, attend the meetings and contribute. Instead of blaming the guys at the top, start at grass roots level yourself and force change there. We all pay taxes and therefore have a right of opinion on how government is spending our money. Maybe the rugby fan should empower himself the same way at club level.

If you are a real supporter, find a club and join. Become part of the system, so to speak.

There are too many fans living in the big cities that have easy access to the rugby family. However, very few are prepared to get their hands dirty or become involved. Do yourself a favour during the festive season and ask around at braais how many of the rugby critics around the fire actually belong to a rugby club. Then challenge them to join.

We all need to take ownership of this game. It will face tough times in the future. It will need all those who love the game to survive these times. I don't know of many rugby fans who don't have an opinion on the game or who don't feel they know better that those running it. The time to just talk is over. Do something. We owe it to the game.

  • Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

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