Duane Heath

Bok history - who cares?

2004-07-16 07:24

Cape Town - It was Winston Churchill who once famously noted, "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

The former British prime minister's comment made me think of one of the funniest anecdotes contained in Mark Keohane's bestselling book Springbok Rugby Uncovered. The story goes that Brent Russell had to ask someone who Tiaan Strauss was, when the former Bok captain came to present the players with their jerseys before a Tri-Nations Test.

It's an amusing yarn, and presumably the 'Pocket Rocket' now knows a little more about the Western Province legend who not only skippered the Springboks just a decade ago, but has a 1999 World Cup winner's medal with the Wallabies to boot.

The quotation also took me back to August 2003, just days before Schalk Burger learnt of his selection to the Bok World Cup squad. I was chatting to the mop-haired hulk about his dad, Schalk snr, and wanted to know if he knew much about his father's era (the 1980s). "I haven't got a clue!" he laughed, but at least the 'Incredible Schalk' knew of Mr Strauss. "He's one of my heroes, along with Zinzan Brooke."

Welcome to the new breed of Springbok rugby player - young, forward-looking, with little time for old glories or the weight of history. They see the past as an anchor to weigh them down, and I think it's a great attitude.

Make no mistake, our new green-and-gold generation have a healthy respect for the jersey and the men who've gone before, but they aren't fanatical about the exploits of old timers - and they don't pretend to be historians.

Ask Jaco van der Westhuyzen or Eddie Andrews who Frik du Preez was and they'll get that dreamy look in their eyes, but just don't expect an answer to a question like, "Who kicked a penalty out of the mud to give the Boks a win over Wales in 1913?"

The Boks of today are more interested in writing history than reading about it.

"History is tradition"

Henry Ford's classic quote, "All history is more or less bunk", could have been coined with John Smit and co. in mind. "History is tradition. We don't want tradition," said the man who gave the Model T to the world, "We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we made today."

Enter men like Burger, Smit, Andrews, De Wet Barry, Bakkies Botha, Jacques Cronje - the list goes on, and on some more. And our junior national stars are even more forthright in their attitudes.

"The Springboks have a fear of the 'mighty' All Blacks," Ish Dollie, South Africa's Under-19 flyhalf who steered the Baby Boks to victory over New Zealand in France in 2003, told me one afternoon in the run-up to the World Cup quarter-final at the World Cup. "If I was picked to play the All Blacks tomorrow, I definitely won't be intimidated. I'd look forward to each and every moment."

Burger, the rebel leader of Bok rugby's brat pack, shares this self-confidence that's part and parcel of the new brigade. "I don't know why, but I think schools rugby in South Africa is the strongest in the world. I've gone on tours overseas and we've beaten the best," he said. "At Under-19 and Under-21 level our rugby is in great health. I think it's just a matter of putting the right systems in place and bringing players through, and then the Springboks will start performing again."

And perform they will, hopefully starting against the Pacific Islanders in Gosford on Saturday.

History was once described as the record of an encounter between character and circumstance. This group, a mercurial mixture of old hands and young feet, certainly has the character. And this Tri-Nations trip, this Down Under acid test, is their circumstance. It's their moment, their fleeting window of opportunity, to ensure that history will be kind to the Bok class of 2004.

And for Jake White's scholars to make sure this happens, they simply need to take a leaf out of Churchill's book, and get writing.

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