I learnt two invaluable lessons this past Saturday: that the mighty Emirates Lions have great bouncebackability and that I’ll always look strange in a rugby jersey on the day of the great Soweto Derby, in the township.
By the way, I use the word ‘great’ to describe the contest between local soccer giants, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates solely because of how well-supported it is, regardless of how dismal the teams involved might be, and not because I think the match itself is a spectacle.
In fact, so bad has been the degeneration of the derby that, in recent years, it has been dubbed the ‘drawby’, which is a word that was created by the media to scorn its predictable nature of producing more draws than any other result.
So anyway, I was at the Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday to witness my beloved Lions tackle the now-outgoing champions, Hurricanes in a Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final, and on my way to the den – as we affectionately call it – were many of my fellow black people in high spirits ahead of the said derby. Many in the KwaThema township that I come from stared at me with slight confusion as they saw me looking like someone who was definitely on his way to a stadium – my marked red jersey and medium-to-large Lions flag gave it away – but whose colours didn’t seem to represent neither Chiefs nor Pirates.
In fact, so sure were my people that I must have been one of the thousands of soccer lovers who occupied the 90-something thousand seats of FNB stadium on Saturday, that one of them, the driver of the local taxi I boarded on my way to the taxi rank, sent me away using a tone that suggested that he knew the match I was going to watch would end in a draw, moments after I asked to get off.
His exact words were: “Hambani niyodlala i draw, nibuye,” which loosely translates to “Go witness the draw and then come back.” I didn’t bother to tell him that I was actually going to watch a Super Rugby semi-final, which, in all likelihood, wouldn’t end in a draw. This is because you just don’t make such corrections to people in the township because otherwise you risk being seen as a snob.
And the strange looks at my Lions badge-bearing jersey and flag didn’t end there, Jozi CBD offered the same experience. More so in the City of Gold because I was clearly walking the ‘wrong’ direction to Doornfontein when ‘everyone else’ was headed to the calabash in Nasrec.
And then there was the match – a repeat of last year’s final except this time it was taking place in Jo’burg instead of Wellington, which is home to the mighty Canes – which was a classic example of why the saying “It’s not how you start that counts”, is true. The Lions were the first team to record points on the board, through the volatile boot of pivot Elton Jantjies to make it 3-0. But before I could even finish tweeting that very fact, the Canes struck by scoring one of their four tries, courtesy of All Blacks scrumhalf, TJ Perenara.
Thirty-odd minutes later and the Canes were leading 22-3, with two minutes or so before half time when loosehead prop Jacques van Rooyen violently charged onto a defender from two metres out to score the Lions’ first and much-needed try before the break. Jantjies’ conversion making it 22-10 after the first 40 minutes.
At that point I felt that we really stood a good chance of overturning the score, and overturn it we did – in a big way! The full-time score read 44-29 to the mighty Lions, after second half tries from Man-of-the-match Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Jantjies and Springbok Sevens star, Kwagga Smith could only be answered to by just one from the Canes. And all this happened a week after that last minute penalty winner by Ruan Combrinck against the Cell C Sharks in the quarter-final, which proved that the Lions are the official comeback kings.
Returning home after a thoroughly satisfying afternoon in the neighbouring city, I walked past an old lady who, surprised to learn that my flag bears a badge of a rugby instead of a soccer club, asked if I really travelled “all the way” to Jo’burg to watch rugby.
I replied with a cheerful ‘yes’ that went with a smile, the smile more at the thought of my boys getting to play the final at home rather than an unwarranted politeness towards an ignorant question.
Khunulogo is a big Lions fan who thinks his team will definitely win the Super Rugby this year. He feels that it’s a shame that he has no one to have a rugby conversation with in the township.
Picture taken from: southerncourier.co.za.