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Back You are here: Home Sports Rugby Kwa Zulu Natal Bridging The Cultural Divide
Tuesday, 15 September 2009 21:36

Bridging The Cultural Divide

A few weeks ago, while captaining a UCT rugby side, I had the opportunity of experiencing first hand an aspect of the beautiful game of rugby that thus far I had never experienced before. It as an aspect that is incredibly entrenched in South African sport in general but most glaringly in rugby.

During the week leading up to our last league game of the season the training was intense. For most of us it would be our final game at U20 level and we were adamant to end it on a high. The Tuesday practice began usually with the chaps playing a bit of touch while the coaches mulled over tactics and selections. It was at this stage, when summoned by my coaches along with my Vice-Captain and good friend, that I knew something did not feel right as the worried look in the eyes of the coaches was something that I'd rarely seen before.

"The game this weekend is against Corr-Violets. Basically it stands for Correctional Services Violets. The club is incredibly worried about this game since the last time we played them it was a disaster with bottles being thrown and even a bike being hurled in front of a winger. They want us to play on a neutral field with a Union Certified ref," said Coach Number One.

"At any stage if anything goes wrong you have the right to pull our guys off the field, in fact I will make sure that you do," said Coach Number Two.

I exchanged a worried look with my Vice-Skipper. The last thing we wanted was our last game as U20's to turn into a catastrophe, but according to everyone it would. Throughout the week people kept telling me horrific stories about referees being attacked and opposition being shanked. Needless to say it was the only time in my life that a bit of me was reluctant to play a rugby game.

The day of the game could not have arrived faster though and I drove out with three other mates to the field where we supposed to play. As we drove further and further out of our comfort zone venturing into an impoverished community the jibes and jokes started to fly.

"Will we come out of here alive," "Will we get shanked" "Jeepers where is this place!"

I think we all tried to down play our nervousness at playing in a place we had little to no knowledge of and the stories we had heard did nothing to ease our anxiety. The game itself was one to forget. Everything from high tackles flying everywhere and head-butting to flying insults from the crowd and a rather terrible incident where one of my players was spat on (he insures me that despite rumours this never happened to him while he was at Kearsney!). It was a memory that I'd have much rather forgotten.

Two weeks later while stuck in traffic my thoughts drifted back to the game and I had an opportunity to analyse it with a cooler head than I could straight after the game. The irony of playing in such an underprivileged community was the fact that their fields were so well manicured and maintained, and when I think back to this I realise the love these chaps have for the beautiful game of rugby.  I realised that the reservations that we felt heading to unchartered territory were most probably echoed by their side. I could imagine seeing all these fancy cars with these boys who had led the life of privilege, attending "posh" schools and what not and that they would also head into the game with a profound sense of trepidation. I realised that at our most different we were also at our most similar and the common denominator was rugby.

So you might be thinking what this has to do with school sports? Everything actually. The Boks have won the Tri-Nations in emphatic fashion and we are all incredibly proud of the boys. Once again they've managed to defy all their critics and virtually sweep the board with brilliant rugby. At such a time many a rugby critic and lover will ask the question, "Do we have the depth to continue this dominance?"

The short answer is a resounding yes. The long answer is a lot more complex. We all agree that the quota system is a catastrophic failure and a disgusting standard where a player is chosen based on what his skin colour is rather than his ability. The successes of the Boks penetrate deeply into even the poorest communities where youngsters dream of emulating their Bok heroes. We have to realise the potential for talent that there is in these communities, not by implementing brainless schemes like quota systems but by building bridges to these communities at schools level. In our game both of our sides were guilty on one level or another. We were guilty of being rather pretentious while they were guilty of foul play.

We fell foul to the disease which contaminates this brilliant country of ours; we are constantly reminded of our differences and not our similarities. We are constantly told about black and white, rich and poor. We need to realise that we must learn from each other or we are bound to fail. They can learn from us to play rugby within the rules and that there is no place for foul play. We can learn from them that rugby knows nothing of class or status and that a simple oval ball can bring 30 persons together regardless of their differences. At the end of the day rugby is what keeps us together, but only if we both allow it to.