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A (mostly) triumphant return to the stadium

It’s three days after the Springboks’ first game in front of a home crowd in almost three years, and I’m still trying to recover my voice. I may also have a minor crush injury from the halftime queue for the ladies’ bathroom (the Springbok scrum has nothing on a group of women, desperate to get to the front before the second half begins), but no matter. I’m just so thrilled we are finally back in a full stadium, watching our champions in action.

By now, there has obviously been a lot of technical analysis of the game, and plenty of discussion about who excelled and who should not be in the matchday 23 in Bloemfontein. So, I’m not really going to add to that conversation. Except perhaps to say that it was always a little foolhardy for anyone (South African or Welsh) to predict that the Springboks were going to beat Wales by some stupendous amount. I saw people suggesting 50 points, which obviously is a tiny bit insane (for the record, I said South Africa by 8 on SuperBru, so this is not just a case of hindsight being 20/20). Wales may have had a pretty poor Six Nations campaign, and their URC teams failed to spark during that tournament, but they’re one of those teams that seem to have the Springboks’ number in recent years, playing the kind of game that sees the result come down to minor differences, as it did on Saturday.

Part of me wouldn’t have even cared if we’d lost on Saturday, I was just so happy to be back in the stadium. Okay, a very, very small part, but still. What a joy it was to resume the stadium day traditions that have been neglected since 2019. I was overexcited from the moment I got on the park and ride bus, and not even the long queues to get through the stadium turnstiles could dampen my enthusiasm. I predicted that I would start crying during the anthem, but in reality, the overwhelming happiness at being back at the stadium meant the tears were already flowing when Impi started playing and the team ran out. We had the non-playing members of the Welsh squad sitting in the row in front of us, and I think they were deaf before the anthems had even begun. Apologies.

I definitely wasn’t the only one who was overexcited though. It was clear that everyone was extremely happy to be there. To the point where everything just felt a bit like it was teetering on the edge of chaos at times. Like the crowd could definitely have turned if things went awry. I don’t know why they put those Welsh players in amongst the crowd, but I do think they had moments of being a tiny bit afraid. Loftus will do that to you. Needless to say, they were whisked away before Willemse had even slotted the final penalty (which I couldn’t event watch). I have to admit, I felt a twinge of embarrassment at the man who stood up during the Welsh anthem and flipped the middle finger on both hands for most of it – I mean, is that level of disrespect really necessary? It’s not really in keeping with the spirit of rugby.

Speaking of disrespect, there’s also been a lot of talk about Dan Biggar’s behaviour on Saturday. Of course, he acted perplexed in interviews after the game, saying they had to front up to the Springboks with aggression, rather than merely acting like walkovers. He’s not wrong, but his attitude on the field, and that of some of the other Welsh players, seemed to go well beyond that. You don’t often see players like Siya Kolisi and Cheslin Kolbe losing their tempers, and yet the Welsh players were clearly pushing them to a point where they couldn’t help but react. That’s obviously a tactic designed to earn penalties, but unfortunately for them, Biggar took it too far. Many Welsh fans have been complaining about the referee, with some going so far as to suggest he was intimidated by the crowd, and thus gave the Springboks the rub of the green. No. If anything affected his attitude towards Wales, it was the constant harassment and attitude from their captain. Emotions were obviously running high for everyone, and he just couldn’t seem to rein his in enough to realise that he was alienating the officials.

Nevertheless, despite the niggling and a less than perfect performance from our boys, it was unbelievably beautiful to be back in the stadium, to hear the anthem being belted out by nearly 52,000 people, and to watch South Africans come together to support the Boks. I can’t wait to head to Bloemfontein on Saturday!

Video courtesy of SuperSport Rugby.

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