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Richie McCaw & Jean de Villiers

Respect on and off the field. Richie McCaw making a special presentation to Jean de Villiers.

It came as an innocuous question from an All Black supporter on Twitter, but it summed up the feeling after Saturday’s epic Springboks-All Blacks test in Wellington.

“After that, don’t you wish Ellis Park could be next week?” he asked. The answer is a big resounding yes.

It wasn’t because we lost and wanted revenge. It wasn’t because the Boks will be kicking themselves for coming so close against the World Champions.


It was more than that.

These contests remain special. They have since day one, and long may they remain so.

It took two moments after the game to show just the difference in Sanzar’s hierarchy, and why we love playing and hate so much to lose to the All Blacks.

Richie McCaw’s post match champagne handover to Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers to acknowledge their 100th caps wasn’t something that was planned.

But damn it was a classy move.

Ditto Ma’a Nonu and his jersey instruction to be given to De Villiers before he rushed off to fix a broken arm.

Warriors had battled. The game was done. Respect all around.

The All Blacks know there is only one team that can consistently test them. One team that has their measure and one team they truly worry about playing.

And yes the Boks lost. It was frustrating, it was heart-breaking. It was oh-so-close.

We should never celebrate a Bok defeat. And this column is hardly that.

But after being written off by every critic with a decoder, the Boks stood up and were counted.

They had moments where they could have won the contest. They shut down the All Blacks expansive game, and they should have done better with the ball they had at the end.

In these contests inches make the difference.

And so they lost.

But what stood proud and tall was a legacy of battles between the two sides that has shaped rugby history.

It is that which should be celebrated.

My earliest memory of rugby was getting up at 3am to watch the ill-fated 1981 tour. It is a tour that still fascinates me.

It was a tour that turned New Zealand against itself, brother against brother.

But back then all I wanted to do was watch rugby. Nine years old, I was frustrated as hell when the protesters stormed the field in Hamilton, and the game against Waikato couldn’t take place.

30 years later I had the privilege to spend two months in New Zealand, travelling to smaller venues and meeting the people.

I spent one interesting evening with Alan Hewson, who kicked that (still) controversial penalty to win the ’81 series for New Zealand at the Petone Rugby Club outside Wellington.

Surrounded by pictures of the low flying aircraft dropping flour bombs, Hewson told stories of that tour to a fascinated group who were just kids when it happened.

So too I’ve read about Kevin Skinner’s exploits, Sid Going and many others.

It is a legacy of success and a rivalry that is as old as time.

New Zealand still is probably the only nation on earth that truly stands still for a rugby game. In Christchurch a decade ago I witnessed the “blackout” of shops, hotels and restaurant first hand.

It is the love of the people for the game that is at the heart of it all. Often I’ve had discussions on technical points, rugby folklore and selections, and unlike some of us South Africans, it hasn’t been “I don’t support the team because the coach likes / dislikes X player from X province.”

Rugby there is for the All Blacks. It lives to see them succeed. It isn’t fractured like South Africa, where clearly many people still would rather put their province before the national team.

They have a different style and strengths to South Africa, it is what makes the games so intriguing.

And despite the viewpoint that we need to copy them, most coaches will disagree and say we rather need to develop our own style of play.

Is it any surprise that the Kiwi newspapers were praising the Boks this past weekend or that the NZRU stand together with SARU at the moment when it comes to Super Rugby.

They recognise the value of the contest, even though we have been our own worst enemies at times.

Compare that to Australia where despite the odd bit of Waratah magic, rugby remains a marketing gimmick, a one-eyed spectacle brought to you by gurus.

A game where the hard stuff – scrums in particular – sees them turn up their noses.

Rugby remains a distant fourth best in Australia, and we’re forever hearing them want to “compete” with other codes.

Whatever your belief about Saturday’s game. Yes the Boks should have won, and no, it isn’t right to celebrate a defeat.

As one colleague said on Saturday “we don’t celebrate nearly men”.

Yet the legacy of the ages is still there.

In an age where we’re fed a gluttony of rugby, and over indulge on a game because of the power of television.

Isn’t it nice to know old battles still mean something. Old rivalries and traditions are still there.

Whatever happens at Ellis Park, the battle that will take place will be equally epic. A mouth-watering prospect indeed.

Bring it on, bring it on.

I, for one, can’t wait.

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