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THE GAMES WE PLAYED. 11. Rugby. Game of oppressors and oppressed. [Part two] [5min read]

Part two

Missing two big toe nails in the Paarl game was soon forgotten. The consolation of our Paarl trip was that we had the school netball team with us. The hour and a half bus ride home, after sunset, was over, all too soon! As was the case, even in those days, what went on during the bus trip, stayed on the bus, sort of! This is part of the three hundred kilometre long Helderberge range behind us on our way home from Paarl.

Our team did not do well in my first year of rugby, but the arrival of a new teacher, Mr Burch [who played club rugby] transformed us from a team that lost every week to a team that started to win. We were a team without proper rugby tops. I played in old knitted jerseys until they were ripped off my back after a few outings. The rest of our group was not much better, except for a couple of guys who played in their weekend club rugby tops. What a Harlequins bunch we were. Our coach arranged sponsorship for our jerseys. He decked us out in the blue school colours with distinctive yellow collars. There was something special about playing in school colours with all your teammates. We won all of our matches for the rest of the season. Part of our transformation was our coaching which applied to how we played and the vast improvement in our fitness. We started running around the neighbourhood with our coach at the lead. That first run had me aching all over. The legs, in particular, had me hobbling around the next day. I sought relief from the pain with a generous rub of recommended Wintergreen. Now there was no warning of where NOT to put the toxic, inflammable salve. The scrotal fire that erupted had me in agony for hours that evening. I soon discovered that the only cure for it was impatient waiting. It was like a rampaging Aussie bushfire; it consumed all. Soap and water were ineffectual. Howling and tears did not help either. I have high pain tolerance, but that episode in my life exceeded my thresholds. It goes without saying that I NEVER EVER used Wintergreen again. NEVER. That is to this day! On the medical side, the past few years have seen me resort to the use of high dose Turmeric capsules for those muscle aches that result from unaccustomed exercise. It works a treat. I cannot understand why it took modern medicine so long to promote its use. Knowledgable Indian nationals have used it in their Ayurvedic medications for centuries for arthritic relief. Other benefits for the new “wonder” drug are claimed, including its anti-oxidant properties. It’s also a safer product than Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory preparations. Twice a day doses leave me almost pain-free from over forty years of “radiologist’s spine” – read “lead apron spine.” After senior school, I could not play rugby for the University of Cape Town. This was for White students only. After all, like a few others, I was only allowed at a White university with a special permit from the Minister of Coloured Affairs. Joining any sporting university team was not allowed. The country excelled in sticking politics into sport, while it decried those who tried to do the same to force the government to change their policies. Never was there a more abnormal society trying to push the mantra of normalised sport.

I still love rugby and the All Blacks are still my favourite team even though New Zealand Rugby had a chequered history in joining the anti-tour protests and sports boycotts of the 1970’s and 1980’s. To its credit, Australia stopped all national sporting contacts in 1974. Sadly, it needed another eleven years for a High Court decision to do the same to New Zealand rugby. The issue divided NZ which was well shown by the 1981 “barbed wire” tour of the country. No amount of government spin could hide this from us —> How we celebrated the stopping of the Hamilton test match because of the protesting demonstrators. We cackled with delight when the Auckland test match was flour-bombed from a Cessna plane. The UK followed later when a Lions tour of South Africa was cancelled in 1986. WE loved all of it! We are not yet close to a truly majority national team in South Africa. Whether it’s a Super Ruby or national team, it still intrigues me that there are more people of colour in New Zealand and Australian teams than there are in a team from Africa. The South African Council of Sports policy was there could be no normal sport in an abnormal society. I supported that line of action. Early Black Springboks were castigated for selling out. It’s refreshing to see the Springbok Sevens’ team. It will be good when the fifteen-man team also reflects the same degree of positive affirmation. One day, maybe, it will happen. Just watch this space. I will be one of the first to applaud it. Maybe they are close. In 2017 I had tears in my eyes when the South African national anthem played before the test match against Argentina. For those of you who regard me as tough, well, I’m emotional like that. This comes from a guy who refused to stand when they played the anthem during his graduation ceremonies in 1965 and 1978. It must be the age thing!


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