Modern game has proved a leveller for South Africa
AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS:South Africa used to be able to bully their way to victory. But not anymore
”We’re looking forward to going to Ireland in November,” said Springbok captain Gary Teichman after the second Test against Ireland in 1998 at Loftus Versfeld. “So are we,” came Keith Wood’s immediate response.
Ireland may have lost that game 33-0 but they refused to be intimidated. That was the minimum requirement because to accept bullying from South Africa is to guarantee a horrendous and relentless beating. That’s why we love the Springboks – they happily embrace the bad guy role. Young Eben Etzebeth was bewildered this week when only tentatively labelled an “enforcer”.
“In South Africa if you play with the number four on your back it is your role. I know the responsibility of that,” he said.
Looking at the respective forwards who collided back in 1998 it is easy to understand how a constant stream of running battles occurred. “Just one big brawl,” was how Ireland’s number eight that day, Victor Costello, remembers it.
The Boks’ infamous hooker James Dalton was japing away and throwing digs, while monstrous flanker Andre Venter only ever knew how to dominate. Even the greatest scrumhalf of that generation, Joost van der Westhuizen, was up to no good, kicking a grounded Mal O’Kelly. That’s what sparked the ensuing madness. Van der Westhuizen was only yellow-carded.
Paddy Johns, a man who led Ireland with such honesty through the dark years and being cut from a long line of uncompromising Ulster locks, made the decision to fight back. Wood was the obvious and repeat target, mainly because he constantly insisted on carrying into contact.
All hell broke loose when Trevor Brennan arrived on 53 minutes. Not long after, Peter Clohessy followed the Barnhall Bruiser into the fray.
“There were incidents everywhere we went on that tour on and off the pitch,” said Costello. “Including the crowd. They try and intimidate you. You go down to Bloemfontein or Pretoria and the supporters would be banging on our bus and calling you names. It was always going to drift on to the pitch.
“We weren’t the most skilful team, we hadn’t got any consistency of performance that year but we were not going to take it off them anymore. Paddy Johns had enough and, yeah, it became a brawl. Now, were we able to adapt from brawl to performance? No. Were they? Absolutely. But we were going to stand up to them.”
It can be taken as a certainty that today’s young Springbok pack will be bursting to live up the reputation of their famed predecessors. “It won’t be like ’98,” Costello continued. “South Africa have grown up a bit, if you like. Bullying is not everything anymore. My problem is I can’t remember an international of note that Ireland have won without Brian O’Driscoll in the past 10 years.”
When it comes to Irishmen beating South Africa, Fergus Slattery is second only to Willie John McBride, who by default of the Lions captaincy is the first among equals from the unbeaten 1974 team.
Everyone in rugby has heard of the infamous “99 call” in the third Test when McBride, like Johns after him, had enough of the isolated assaults on his players. Slattery describes it better than most because the flanker was in the middle of it when JPR Williams flung himself at Moaner van Heerden.