It is one of our greatest strengths as a rugby nation on and off the field, but it is also a force that deeply divides our national rugby collective.
Sport is nothing without passion, without it kids will never pick up a ball and copy their heroes on television in blue, black, white or green and gold jerseys in the back garden. People will not line the streets to catch a glimpse of their heroes in an open top bus or stand for hours in the sun to sneak a peek at some elusive trophy their team won for the first time in many years.
This passion is not only reserved for supporters. Recently Scottish international, Mike Blair announced his retirement from the game. He is an 80+ test veteran for Scotland and when he decided to hang up his boots, he decided to thank everyone through a blog post he wrote. One line in this post stood out more than anything else.
“I will never take for granted the privilege that I have been able to realise my childhood dream.”
It is this passion which drives rugby, without it, the game is dead.
Being afforded the privilege to commentate on the game through this website and other mediums, I get to chat to some of these passionate supporters daily. It is a privilege I will never take for granted because every single day I am reminded of just how special the game of rugby really is. I am taught and reminded daily to view issues from different perspectives and different points of view. It has also forced me to view the game beyond the team I personally support because for every one of me who feels that I am the most passionate supporter that ever lived, there are 100 other guys and girls out there supporting a different team that feels exactly the same way.
But my intent with this blog post is not to stir a Jerry Maguire moment in all of you, rugby and specifically rugby as a professional sport has some very harsh realities, and one of those realities we have to deal with as South African rugby supporters currently is the inclusion of the Kings in Super Rugby this year.
In the 8 years I have been doing this ‘officially’ I have never seen a topic in rugby divide South African supporters and commentators as much as the issue of the Kings. The contempt, disgust and at times even hatred goes beyond the ‘standard’ provincial rivalry and banter which in itself can be very intense at the worst of times. I am not surprised though.
The issue of the Spears/Kings is one that started as a slight itch in 2005 but has since exploded into the worst case of piles imaginable. In plain Afrikaans; “Die hele gedoente is niks meer as ‘n moerse pyn in die gat nie”.
The concept of a franchise in the Eastern Cape is something I have always personally supported, our rugby will be stronger if we have a functional and operational organisation or franchise in place to better develop the thousands of players schools and clubs in this region produce every year. But like so many things this concept was abused by self-serving individuals who tried to sell this franchise to stakeholders in government and industry for political and monetary gain, and because of this, the decisions that followed left players and supporters disillusioned and even angry (at the Kings).
It is nothing new in rugby and even sport in general for administrators with zero accountability to stuff things up, but I do find the vitriol and anger aimed mostly at the Kings players and coaching staff (the rugby men) unfair.
There is something coaching rugby at amateur and youth level teaches you we as supporters often forget – the lads out there busting their balls on the field do so because the love the game and like us could not care less about the political backstabbing that happens at administrative level.
I looked at the Kings squad that was announced yesterday and I also read a comment from Alan Solomons (the Kings Director of Rugby) that realistically they are aiming to end 4th in the South African conference (to avoid the promotion/relegation play-off against the Lions). I think they will do damn well to win one game personally.
Also, like many out there I fear the record books for Super Rugby will be re-written and not in a good way where we might see record scores posted against the Kings. But unlike so many comments I see of people looking forward to this happening I think it will do untold damage to our rugby in this country and that those boys that will run out in Kings jerseys simply do not deserve it.
The Kings participation in Super Rugby is in many, if not most ways an unfortunate situation but we as supporters must not lose sight of the fact that it is as a result of decisions made by administrators, not the players and coaches that will carry the brunt of the criticism and jokes that is sure to come.
They might not have a hope in hell to win any games this year, and in my personal opinion they don’t, but I would also like to see supporters get behind the team as South Africans if only for the players sake. They are after-all, just realising their childhood dreams same as Mike Blair did.