It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a sense of impending doom on what was not to prove an auspicious afternoon for either the usual gathering or the Springbok team they had assembled to urge on.
True, there was the usual green and gold bouquet of Bok replica jerseys on display – though Dave the Silent was a notable absentee on a trip to the States – but the air of reined-in excitement was missing, slowly eroded over the season by a less than auspicious win rate.
And to add to the agony, Eddie Jones, the man behind the humiliating defeat by Japan in last year’s World Cup, was now behind England’s planning for the Twickenham Test. And worse, a French referee had been provided. “What do you think will happen?” was a question that was batted back and forth between the members. At best, if any answer at all was given, it was more than likely to be a noncommittal shrug of the shoulders.
It would be fine, in the cold light of retrospect, to have heeded the misgivings of the Fearsome Fireman. “I am going home to watch it,” he had said long before kick-off. “I shall sit in a comfortable chair with a glass of wine at my elbow.”
Perhaps that piece of foresight was just as well, for few people in the usual gathering really like to see the sight of a grown man cry. Even when a Pat Lambie penalty and a somewhat wobbly left-foot drop-kick put the Boks six points to the good, there was an air of looming disaster surrounding the gathering. This was articulated best by Biggles, so called because of the Snoopy-style flying goggles he habitually wears on his motorcycle helmet.
“Let’s see how they manage to mess this up,” or words to that effect, he said. It was a dour prediction that predictably proved right barely 10 minutes into the match as England developed a classic Eddie Jones training ground move, with the dummy runner heading one way as the scattered Springbok defence slavishly followed and the ball being sent from hand to hand for leftwing Jonny May to dive over in the corner. “They can’t defend,” yelled Biggles in seeming despair.
“They can’t tackle. What can they do? You could see that one coming a mile off.” But it was a pinpoint move – and a rhetorical question – that clearly this Bok side was unable to answer.
Sadly, it became increasingly obvious that had this been a game of 20 questions, the Boks would have have been similarly lacking as – despite some neat individual touches on increasingly rare occasions – the selected South African combinations were clearly as uncomfortable as a poorly-tailored off-the-peg suit.
Even the increasingly frequent exhortations from Biggles to tackle and not to “put it down their throats … kick the blessed thing out”, or words to that effect, the inevitability of the 37-21 England win had been written in the stars. It was clear as the final whistle blew to end the decade-long hoodoo the Boks had held over England at the ground they refer to as “Headquarters” that the Fireman had made the most astute decision at the outset.