Columnists 10.8.2016 03:17 pm

Braai fire takes sting out of Lions’ defeat

Jon Swift

Jon Swift

It’s understanding the contest rather than the context that really counts.

It was apt that Dave the Silent sat speechless in the gathering sunshine of a Highveld winter mid-morning, his mind on the Super Rugby final he had just witnessed, his attention seemingly focused on the glowing coals almost ready to accept the braai. It had been clear as the Hurricanes relentlessly outplayed the Lions in miserable conditions in Wellington, ending the fairytale rise from the ashes of three seasons ago to emerge as the pre-eminent South African franchise of the 2016 campaign.

“Well,” said the Silent One, eventually emerging from his cocoon, “I suppose it all had to end sometime and effectively abandoning top spot by sending a second side to Buenos Aires, asking the Lions to fly halfway round the globe and then trying to beat a team in their own backyard who had gone unbeaten in their last six matches, was an unrealistic ask.”

It was one of those mini-orations that the Silent One – more a huntin’ and fishin’ type – sometimes comes up with to stun the gathering with an insight into rugby’s core, while still professing no real knowledge of the game’s complexities. He does this by stripping all sport down to the inescapable fact that it remains at heart and bereft of the balloons and banners, a contest.

And while he has been drawn into the growing support for the Lions by the usual suspects – though he steadfastly refuses to countenance adopting the colours of the replica jerseys which have bloomed as bright as the bushveld after the rains have come – he thoroughly subscribes to the mano a mano conditions of any such contest… even if the eventual outcome sometimes leaves him feeling somewhat let down.

“Some aspects tend to colour my view of the 20-3 loss to the New Zealanders,” he continued. “The first is the immense courage of Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles. I know full well the pain of a ruptured rib cartilage. Yet he came back and scrummed at hooker after being substituted in apparent agony just after half-time. That took real guts.

“The next is just what a fine athlete Beauden Barrett is. His control of the game was evident even to a non-expert as I am. His kicking in the conditions – though you would probably expect it to be– was far superior to that produced by Elton Jantjies, who never really looked like he had a handle on his game. Ultimately, at least I think, the difference between the two flyhalves made all the difference in the final.

“But what impressed me most was the try Barrett scored to put the nail firmly in the coffin for the Lions. A hack ahead from a fumbled Lions lineout and the chase was on. Out of nowhere, Barrett arrives and gets his hand to the ball. Simply amazing.” With that, The Silent One went back to his contemplation of the braai coals. Then he added a final comment.

“But all things being equal,” he said, “some decent sunshine and a top-rate boerewors roll are often enough to dispel the clouds.” There was unanimous approval of this sentiment.

today in print