It definitely is the jersey that you wear. In the opening stages of the game, as South Africa dotted down right in front of the touch judge, I found myself cheering, then swearing at referee Wayne Barnes as he went to the TMO. I was noticing the Welsh infringements more than the South African ones. And I found myself hating the loud-mouthed drunken Welshman in the corporate box beside me; and not just he was being an arsehole. Well mainly, because he was an arsehole. He seemed to only know the offside rule, vaguely, and a basic selection of swear words. But he was a small ugly blight on what was a very nice day as a South African.
For those who don't remember, the tale of why I own a South African jersey, it’s really rather sweet. Though, as I am almost never in a position to support the “old foe”, the jersey has stayed inside my wardrobe almost exclusively. Until yesterday.
After acquiring a number of safety pins to turn the XXL tent into a (roughly) M-sized jersey, I wandered through town with a newly acquired South African vibe. Though if anyone spoke to me there could be no deceit as my South African impersonation is famously awful.
It’s a wonderful experiment pretending to be a different person. I had smiles and nods from random people on the street, one guy walked past and wished me good luck. Another couple walked past me as I scoffed a quick burger before catching the media bus: “You going to the game tonight?” “Cool, good luck then!”
It just felt so nice to see that my fellow New Zealanders were being so kind to someone who looked like he was from overseas.
The Welsh fans gave smiles and nods, occasionally exchanging jokes or good wishes. The Bok fans doing the same, or a quiet “Go Bokke”. At the pub, I got some wary glances from Welsh supporters. It felt odd sitting with my green and gold in the middle of a sea of red. Perhaps this is why I felt like I had to support the Boks. Wearing the jersey means you’ve made an investment, you’ve put your chips on the colour and now you have to cheer for it.
The oddest exchange of the night came from a large group of South Africans. A large group of large South Africans. A dozen of them and only one was under 6-foot tall.
They were clearly on a tour together and were gathering after leaving a bar. I was sitting nearby minding my own business when I noticed that a couple of them were staring at me. I said hello and they beckoned me over. Through a mixture of drunken English and very drunken Afrikaans I discovered that they both had the surname Truter, the same that is on the back of my jersey. I couldn’t tell if they were related to each other but neither of them had heard of Trix Truter (whose son Anton sent me the jersey).
They were amazed to see a jersey with their name on it and I was amazed to meet them. We had a chat about the game and they took some snaps of them with me and I took an awful blurry photo of them as my bus pulled up. All in all a great night.
The game was amazing too. Drama, controversy, see-sawing lead changes, excited players from both benches. Victor Matfield did not sit down once after being subbed off, instead he stood at the edge of the advertising hoarding and yelled at the players and refs. It was far too tense a game to relax on the bench. One in a bunch of almost-upsets from the opening weekend.
After the game and the press conference (I will admit to trying to stalk Stephen Jones) I walked along the waterfront to meet friends for a drink. Sunday at 11pm on Wellington’s waterfront felt wonderful. The bars were open and well lit, all the fans, Welsh and South African were in high spirits and there were no crushes or trails of drunken destruction. I saw a novelty Welsh hat floating in the harbour and as I tried to take a photo a group of police walked up and joked, “do we need to initiate a maritime rescue operation?” It just all felt so relaxed and happy.
Nice work everyone.
Thanks to Samsung for the use of their Galaxy Tab 10.1 for the duration of the Rugby World Cup. The lovely little device is the perfect machine for a journalist on the go, like myself.