“I am no expert,” he began, “but surely the Springboks are capable of better than that. I know the All Blacks have swept all before them this season and that South Africa were not expected to win in Christchurch, but a 41-13 thrashing to wrap up the Rugby Championship with two rounds to go? It looked to me that the Springboks were less than ordinary”.
There was general agreement on this from the usual gathering, but it became immediately clear that the Silent One had hardly got into his stride. “I think it was John Wayne who said that all a man really needs is a hat, a horse and a handgun. It got me thinking.”
Quite what the much revered star of countless westerns had to do with rugby union, only the Silent One could have drawn as the basis for inspiration and, before he elaborated on his complex thesis, left the assembled company somewhat perplexed. “Let me explain,” he said, reaching for a plate-cleansing libation before continuing, “and let us for argument’s sake start with the hat. Like a sports team – any sports team – there has to be a comfortable fit.
“Too small and it both lets the rain in around your neck and becomes too uncomfortable to wear after about 40 minutes – about the duration the Springboks seem to last before things unravel. Too big, and it falls over your ears and leaves you unsighted and unaware of the dangers around you. Again, something that seems to afflict our team. We score the first try, and then New Zealand run six past us with no reply. The same happened against Australia.”
It took a little while for the gathering to assimilate this, but it seemed politic to go with the flow and hear the Silent One out. “Then there is the horse,” he continued after another oiling of the vocal chords.
“Here you have to accept that a modicum of skill is needed to get into the saddle and, more importantly, to stay there. Riding is basically a partnership which relies on control, understanding and trust.
“This looks to be singularly lacking with the Boks. They seem ungainly in the saddle, certainly the cover defence has lost both reins and stirrups, leaving a player as experienced as Bryan Habana effectively riding bareback, left trying to fend off three and four attackers on his own.” Again, it took the time needed for a deep draw on the liquid amber for the simile to sink in and for the Silent One to continue.
“Then,” he said, “there is the handgun, a potentially lethal weapon. I’m not really advocating that the Springboks should stoop to bearing arms on the field of play. That would be preaching insurrection and anarchy. But it did strike me that this is probably the only way we can beat the All Blacks right now.”
And convoluted as the mixing of John Wayne and the game legend has was initiated by William Webb Ellis by picking up the ball and running might be, the gathering had to concede the Silent One had a point.