Rugby: it’s not fun anymore
You probably recall those mid-90s Springbok Tri-Nations matches in New Zealand rather fondly. I do. I was still at school back then, and spent many weekends with my grandparents (they had Mnet). On Tri-Nations Saturdays my granddad would wake me up, usually around 4am in those days, with a cup of teeth-melting sugary tea and a toasted cheese sandwich that, had it ever been placed on an airport runway, could’ve halted a runaway Boeing.
The two of us would sit there in sleepy silence and watch the game, my granddad snoring through the most pertinent parts, like the first 80 minutes (he was a soccer man, and only ever “watched” rugby because I enjoyed it) and me wailing and gnashing under my breath as the Boks succumbed to their usual 50-nil New Zealand drubbing.
It was a special time and a happy routine, made it all the more magical because my Glaswegian granddad could care less for the Boks, yet got me up anyway, but also because there was something fun and romantic about getting up to watch rugby while it was still pitch black outside.
You probably all did it, and you probably all remember how rubbish the Boks were when they played in New Zealand in the 90s. Yet somehow those early morning games never deterred us from waking, always expecting for “this” to be the Saturday when Springbok luck would improve.
Nothing but a memory
Those mornings are consigned to the memory scrapheap now. Still, when we do play sport at odd hours, like the Proteas are busy doing in New Zealand, I like to wake up in the dark and have a cuppa with my team, mostly because it reminds me of my granddad, but also because it reminds of when rugby was fun, and not a board meeting in studs.
For me, the game has lost its lustre. Somewhere between 1995 and hearing last night that Varsity Cup teams were cheating (it only took three years, surely a record of sorts?), the game booted the romance of rugby into touch and started mauling cheerlessly and relentlessly towards bottom line results.
It’s tiresome, formulaic and dreary. You can tell the powers-that-be know this, because every weekend commentators are frantically trying to tell us how exciting a particular game is – when they know better.
At this stage of the season during the Super 12 we would be getting excited about semi-final prospects. A third of the season gone, we’d be looking at the form books and figuring out who would make the Springbok squad. Now, with Super Rugby, we have coaches still talking about “getting into it”, “improving week-by-week”, “looking at the bigger picture” or noting that “it’s a long season still to come” - a long season of what, snoring in front of the telly?
Did you know the Stormers are top of the log? How the hell did they manage that? Oh wait, their opponents have fallen asleep in the second half of every game at Newlands so far.
Test rugby is no better, with players and coaches talking about “the next four years” or the cycle between World Cups. For sure, like any fan I want my team to win the World Cup, but not at the expense of having some fun in between. I blame Jake White for this “World Cup cycle phenomenon”. He put so much emphasis on winning 2007, that fans were happy to give him a free pass for some of the atrocities committed between winning the 2004 Tri-Nations and the 2007 World Cup.
Yes, like all sports, rugby is a business now and blah blah one poor excuse after another. But that shouldn’t be the sole reason for squeezing all the life, spirit and fun out of the beautiful game.
I used to go to as many Western Province matches as I could: Vodacom Cup, Currie Cup and Super Rugby. Today, rugby is so dire and lifeless, you won’t catch me within 500m of a TV showing a game.
It may seem odd to declare rugby dead on a weekend that the Stormers went top, the Sharks beat the defending champions and the Cheetahs won it after the final whistle with the best of smash-and-grab tries. But don’t let those little victories fool you. The game is played by men in suits, who smile when the money rolls in, not when a forward pack rolls over the try line.
For me, nobody seems to be having any fun anymore, and that’s far more devastating than losing a game.
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