The thinking behind it only became clear much later in the proceedings, but suffice to say that despite the “Ferocious” tag bestowed on him in a moment of perversity by Dave The Silent, the Fireman is a calm and considered man not given to rash decisions, a legacy from his years of battling blazes in life-threatening situations. In short, unlike many among the usual gathering, he thinks things through.
And so it was that he joined the expectant throng in the build-up to South Africa’s outing against Samoa at Villa Park, the home ground of Aston Villa in Birmingham, suitably rigged out in a Springbok T-shirt
It must be said at this juncture, that there was a somewhat apprehensive air hanging over the assembly. The aftermath of the Japanese destruction of the myth of South Africa’s perceived invincibility the previous weekend had, in the minds of more than one of the gathering, caused the Samoans to grow measurably in stature.
But some time before the Boks lined up in the tunnel alongside the Islanders – who had started reaching mythical proportions as the watchers warmed up on Dutch courage in the run-in to the run-on – the Fireman had made his intentions known.
“I’m not staying for the game,” he said with the solemn finality of a man who has just affixed a signature to his last will and testament.
“I’m gapping it early to avoid any disappointments and I’ll think of you lot while I’m watching relaxed at home. Besides, I don’t think my heart can stand another Pearl Harbour”.
It was a decision that caused some raising of eyebrows and had the Silent One spluttering on his libation. But as the Fireman took his leave, the ritual of anthems merged into the stilled moment of the kick-off and plunged into the violent urgency of a game where neither side was prepared to give a centimetre.
Perhaps it should be pointed out that the Fireman’s presence was missed as the Boks stormed to a 17-6 lead at halftime and even the often ribald banter during the break lacked something of the bite his wry asides often provoke. But this, not unsurprisingly, faded, as JP Pietersen added a hat-trick of tries, the Schalks – Burger and Brits – both scored and Bryan Habana racked up his 11th World Cup try in the dying moments.
Until the arithmetically-challenged Golfer posed the question: “I wonder how the Fireman enjoyed that?”
For while the Fireman’s decision to forgo company and watch the game at home had seemed an uncharacteristic one at the time, it made sense in the analysis.
It became clear that he had made a shrewd decision. He had, at a stroke, missed a victory party that became somewhat ruinous in its intensity and saved himself from the barbs which are inevitably aimed at him every time England take the field and, in the wake of somewhat surprisingly ceding the vital pool game to the Welsh by deciding not to take the kick which would have earned them a draw, would undoubtedly have flown thick and fast.
But in the light of hindsight, it had to be said that he is no fool that Fireman.