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Menings | Opinion > Briewe | Letters > SpeakEasy


Tony Ridgway - 2008-11-17

Uys Krige made me tolerate rugby. For a while. He taught me in an obtuse way to defer to the game. I can well respect the athleticism and fervour attached to the game, and I even marvel at particular teams' achievements. The All Blacks are such a team. As are the Springboks - although I more times curl my lip at them than marvel.

The Geordies of St James' Park taught me that "football is not a matter of life or death - it's more important than that" when I toured England's merciless North-East some years ago. But the militia from Die Moot in Jacaranda City taught me "Bulle is piele", which, to a man, is far more important than life and death, or life or death.

I was schooled in Pretoria. Moreover, I did my national service in Pretoria.

But I am proud to say I am Cape Town-born. And I live in Cape Town now.

I have a rather proud association with Western Province Rugby. I am not terribly proud of the fact that I wrote their official song in 1997 and that they went on to win the Currie Cup that year and finish as runners-up the next (with some useful stock in their ranks like Robbie Fleck, James Small, Gaffie Du Toit and others), but more so that I got transiently to rouse big men charging around proudly in blue and white stripes, seeking victory, as Uys's famous father and muse Japie did in 1903.

I cannot help but wonder if the same intensity went into the war (game) when those burly Cornish took to the hurling fields, as they were all too well aware that the brawl they were about to enter might well end in something worse than life. Or death.

Concluding this comparison, I must say I know several women who have labelled rugger "barbaric" or "medieval". Which is a fair assumption. Grown men were practising similar "sports" pre-Christianity: games like shinty, bandy and cammag have influenced character, and underscored the traditional differences between men and women.

However, as the centuries pass, lines and contours fade and flee. Women now officially play rugby in over 80 countries worldwide, with World Cup and Tri- and Six Nation tournaments abounding. This overwhelms me. As a poet and romantic (as Uys Krige also was) I shudder to think of lying in the tender arms of a hooker, even if she is still only an amateur one. If I had to choose the littlest of all evils, however, I'd have to settle for small scrumhalf.