.As appearing in “Keo’s corner” in the Cape Times and IOL Sport
Springboks Green versus Springbok Gold – the 46 best South African-based Springbok contenders. An unofficial Springbok trial match at Newlands on the 3rdOctober.
And, as a venue and occasion, rightly so.
What a goodbye to the grand old Lady of South Africa rugby, Newlands.
Forget for a moment life pre-1992 in South Africa. For purposes of this column celebration, forget momentarily, the political divide of rugby in the Western Cape pre unity in 1991.
All of the Western Cape got the privilege to experience Newlands post 1992, which doesn’t for a moment make up for the 104 years that the majority of Capetonians were excluded from playing or watching rugby at Newlands.
For purposes of a final goodbye to the home of Western Province and the Stormers’ professional teams and, of course, the Cape Town home of the Springboks, allow me to indulge in a thank you to a rugby (stadium) great grandmother I grew up frequenting from the age of eight years old.
For the non-sporting and non-rugby fraternity, who may be casting an eye over this column, Western Province, the Stormers and the Springboks, will move to the Cape Town Stadium in 2021.
The Springboks versus Scotland was scheduled as the last official Test match at Newlands and Stormers coach John Dobson, at the start of the year, pined for the last Stormers match at the venue to be a first-ever Stormers franchise Super Rugby title-winning final and the last professional rugby match to be a Currie Cup winning final occasion.
Covid-19 had other ideas and there was to be no Stormers match after March this year, no Springbok finale and, in the traditional calendar, no Currie Cup final in 2020.
Firstly, a quick overview of Newlands. The Western Province Rugby Football Union made the decision to buy the ground on which the stadium now stands in 1888. The first official rugby match happened at Newlands on 31st May, 1890, in front of a crowd of around 2400.
The first ever match played at Newlands was between the two Newlands based rugby-school institutions, SACS and Bishops. This happened in April 1890.
The romantic in me would love to see the two schools be the ones to complete the on-field cycle, with the last ever match at Newlands.
But I digress because this is not about two schools; it is about Newlands and my experience of Newlands.
My first experience, as an eight year-old, was Western Province against the All Blacks in 1976. Robbie Blair, one of the game’s most prolific and magnificent left footed goal-kickers, missed eight penalty kicks. A few years ago, I met up with him and asked him about those misses, which in 80 minutes were more than he had missed in a season. He said the All Blacks demanded the hardness of the ball got softened and when the air was pumped out the ball just before kick-off, it spooked him. He had never kicked a ball that soft.
Fortunately, Blair found his composure to nail the last-minute touchline conversion to give Western Province a famous 12-11 win against the All Blacks.
As a rugby supporter, on that day in 1976 when the conversion went over, I fell in love with Robbie Blair, Western Province and Newlands.
Over the years there were special moments.
Blair, coincidentally got the last two minutes in his 75th and final match in the 1984 Currie Cup final against Natal.
It was also the last time, as schoolboys, I got to experience Newlands with my closest friend and one of the most talented schoolboy players I have known, Craig Cloete. We over the years watched games from the luxury of a corporate suite but nothing ever beat the scholars’ section, a metre from the players, on the Railway Stand.
Since 1976, as a fan and professional rugby writer, there have been wonderful moments of euphoria and absolute sadness at the result of a WP, Stormers or Springboks match.
My most lasting memory will be the 1976 All Blacks defeat to WP and the 2017, 25-24 All Blacks win against the Springboks.
They were both one-point thrillers and the first one I got to watch with my late dad (Danny) and my elder brother (Shane) and the last one I got to experience with my son (Oliver).
From a young boy and a father, thank you Newlands for the rugby memories, and thank you Rassie Erasmus for bringing the best 46 South African players to pay tribute to the grandest of rugby great-grandmothers: all in the name of World Champion Springboks green and gold.