The Silent One, who it must be admitted does not do humiliation well, had made a transitory visit to announce his re-emergence, and had, wisely as it turned out, foresworn watching the Springboks take on Italy, mindful of the likelihood that a defeat was a distinct possibility and a reluctance to engage in the round of recriminations which would inevitably accompany an Italian victory.
He does not do recrimination well either. The Sojourner, a top-flight Canadian player in his day, combines a real knowledge of the game with the sharp legal mind which had landed him a law professorship in Australia – hence his extended absence – but had little diminished his love of this country and his allegiance to the Springbok cause. Unlike the Silent One, the Sojourner had watched the humiliation of the Boks in Florence.
“It was terrible,” he said as the full realisation of the depths the South African game had sunk to in the wake of the disastrous 20- 18 defeat, made itself fully felt. “It was woeful,” the Sojourner added to underline his initial feelings.
“There are simply no positives to take out of this. I can possibly accept that an England team at Twickenham under the shrewd coaching of Eddie Jones might have South Africa’s measure, But Italy of all sides!” From a man who professes how much he misses South Africa and – though he decries the crime in our decaying streets – proclaims that, climatically, Johannesburg is one of the world’s best-kept secrets, that came close to bleeding internally.
“The Boks had simply no clue on what to do next,” he continued. “There was no pattern, no form and Italy came at them like men on a mission. “I was particularly disturbed to see a Bok pack being driven backwards and when the disallowed second pushover try came, the only defenders trying to get between the attackers and the try-line were winger Ruan Combrink and substitute scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
“That’s as upsetting as watching Bryan Habana letting a kick-ahead slide impotently through his arms. This was not Springbok rugby as I remember it. It was terrible.” There was general agreement on this as the by now well-watered gathering slowly flowed its way towards the door. But the Sojourner had a last thing to add.
“It is perhaps a good thing that the Boks didn’t play in Rome,” he said, “or some modern day Caesar might have had to give them the thumbs-down and feed them to the lions”.
And while that might well be a signal departure from the rules of legality and decency which are at the very heart of the Sojourner’s field of study – even, you might argue, at odds with accepted legal norms, he came close to hitting the proverbial nail of prevailing feeling directly on the head.