Springboks’ win over the Lions gives South Africans joy amid uncertainy

Rugby pundits make it clear that team would rather win than play ‘champagne rugby’

The Springboks’ victory over the British & Irish Lions on Saturday to clinch the Test series has provided a much-needed distraction for beleaguered South Africans, who are facing into an uncertain future due to Covid-19 and recent civil unrest.

The way the Springboks held their nerve to beat the Lions 19-16 in Cape Town in the deciding match of a three-Test series has shone like a ray of light through an otherwise darkly depressing period for many people in the rugby-mad nation.

The ongoing third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the fallout from the deadly violence and looting that hit Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces last month, have seemed like insurmountable challenges to many locals at times.

Aside from the 74,813 people who have lost their lives to Covid-19 as of Sunday, a further 342 people were killed in the looting and arson sprees that were sparked by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma on July 8th for refusing to attend a corruption inquiry.


Some of the local rugby fans The Irish Times spoke to after Saturday’s decider said they were extremely happy that the tour had been completed under such difficult circumstances, as it gave people hope that South Africa could also overcome the adversity it is currently facing.

Health and fitness coach David Yuill said the Springboks’ victory under very arduous conditions in the country “gave hope once again to a nation in desperate need of it”.

“The tour put a smile on my face and made me proud and grateful that we could witness this historic win,” he said, before adding: “Yes, we could not go out in the streets and celebrate this victory like we have in the past, but it doesn’t make it any less satisfying… we celebrated in a quieter, more personal way”.

‘Small victory’

Businessman Ryan Epstein from Cape Town maintained that although the Springboks’ win was big in a rugby sense, he and most of his friends viewed it from the perspective of “celebrating a small victory” at a difficult time for the nation.

“Our rugby team is the best it has ever been, I would say. But that is all that we have to celebrate [in South Africa] at the moment really,” he said.

Boks fan Jonathan Carter said that Covid-19 certainly subdued people’s ability to fully enjoy the tour, given spectators were not allowed at games. But he believed it was better to have it played under these circumstances than to have it postponed or moved somewhere else.

“The tour could have been delayed until later in this year in the hope that we could have had crowds at the games, but who knows what might happen here with Covid by then,” he said.

In the aftermath of their victory South Africa’s media has hailed this Springbok team as one of the nation’s best ever, with captain Siya Kolisi being elevated to the same status as his predecessor John Smit as the only two Bok captains to win a Rugby World Cup and a Lions series.

Writing in the online Daily Maverick news outlet Craig Ray said that “the global pandemic permitting, the Boks are now building a great body of work that feels like the beginning of a golden era”.

However, he maintained that if the Lions were honest with themselves, they would agree they should have won the match and series in the first half of the third Test, as “they completely dominated it but failed to make it count”.

While there has been much said about the type of rugby played in the series, with many pundits saying both teams offered up turgid, uninspiring fare at best, News24’s Rob Houwing maintained Bok fans will always take winning over ‘champagne rugby’.

Houwing conceded the Boks had a low-risk game plan - which was devoted to template-driven efficiency and clinical defence - that has many detractors.

Aesthetic pleasure

However, he concluded that “as long as it keeps getting them doggedly over the line on major-league occasions - like winning World Cups, and seeing off the Lions - the level of aesthetic pleasure to the rugby matters barely a jot to the nucleus of SA devotees”.

SuperSport’s Gavin Rich also said in an opinion piece on Monday that people should not forget how vital it was for the Springboks and the Lions that this tour went ahead, as both outfits would have been in serious financial trouble if it had not.

“That the series then finally got decided with less than a minute to go in the final Test, that after their initial hiccups both squads managed to keep themselves Covid free so they could get that far, was a wonderful triumph.

“Both teams won, rugby won, and in this country rugby was saved. Just this once, there’s nothing cliched about suggesting rugby was the real winner,” he concluded.