AB’s v Boks – The rivalry to end all rivalries


Came across this awesome piece by Kiwi commentator and good friend of RW, Sumo Stevenson.

NZ Herald – Sumo Stevenson

For any number of reasons tomorrow’s test match will be one to savour. For me, every test between New Zealand and South Africa deserves to be devoured with great delight.

It is the rivalry to end all rivalries and for me it is extra special.

You see, half my family cheers for the other mob.

My mum came to New Zealand in the 1970s, when hair was long and shorts were short and sideburns were compulsory (and that was just Kiwi women) and when a South African immigrant was something of a novelty, and not a particularly welcome one. If the early ’70s were tough for her, you can imagine what the early ’80s were like. It didn’t really matter that mum found apartheid as abhorrent as most rational New Zealanders did. The accent was as good as a target on the back.

Of course, I was a little too young to remember all the fuss of 1981, but it was real and it was important and, in listening to the stories of those on the frontlines (on both sides of the conflict, too) it was unbelievably disturbing. However, behind the politics and the protest and the goodwill and bad, the rivalry remained. Regardless of where you stood on the issue, one thing is for certain, those blokes must have really wanted to play each other.

Our family lived in a kind of rugby limbo for the best part of the next decade. There was no contact with South Africa to divide our clan – unless you count the Cavaliers, and New Zealand rugby certainly doesn’t – until, in 1992, the All Blacks set foot once more on African shores. I remember that game, I remember what it meant to my family, and I remember the smile on mum’s face, and the phone calls between sisters and cousins and grandparents that accompanied it. And I remember that being about the last time mum was a Springbok fan.

Eventually, she became a Kiwi. And what treason it would be to support any other team than the All Blacks when your passport says New Zealand citizen.

In 1995, I headed to South Africa for the first time. At the age of 18 I met my family. Through sheer good luck, the Rugby World Cup would be played in South Africa that year.

Through sheer good fortune, I would be there the whole year. Just like mum had been in the ’70s, I was the novelty in the ’90s. My school, Woodridge College, was a half-hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth. I’m sure I was the only Kiwi in the whole of the Cape, or at least that’s how it felt. And of course, as the All Blacks cut a swathe through the tournament and as the Springboks managed somehow to make it through to a final against them, everything was set for the showdown for the ages. It was. And the All Blacks lost. And South Africa rejoiced.

And I still had six months left there.

That the South Africans won the Cup meant the world to their fans. That they beat the All Blacks to do it meant the whole damn universe. The greatest rivalry in rugby writ large on the bottom of a jumbo jet and etched in the wrinkles of Nelson Mandela’s smile.

I remember walking into the school dining hall, deflated, defeated and distraught. What happened next has stayed with me all these years: as I walked in, the entire school, black, white, coloured and every shade in between, stood and sang Shosholoza for a full 10 minutes. One of the most amazing things I have experienced.

Despite much cajoling, my South African family has never managed to get me into a Springbok supporter’s jersey, but never ones to be dissuaded from a quest, now they have gone to work on the next generation. The arrival of each of my two sons has been accompanied by gifts from the republic: Springbok beanies and scarves, Springbok teddy bears and Springbok badges.

They will stay in the cupboard and when the boys are old enough they can ask me what they are, and I’ll tell them of the texts and the phone calls and the baiting and the gloating that accompanies each and every All Blacks-Springbok test. And I’ll tell them of the greatest rivalry in all of rugby and why it means so much to our family and why it means so much to the men playing the game. And I’ll also tell them why Aunty Mal texts us at 3 in morning. Because she still hasn’t figured out the time difference.

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  1. Says it all:” That the South Africans won the Cup meant the world to their fans. That they beat the All Blacks to do it meant the whole damn universe. The greatest rivalry in rugby writ large on the bottom of a jumbo jet and etched in the wrinkles of Nelson Mandela’s smile”

  2. Really enjoyed this read also. My best mate is a Kiwi and my mother in law is a staunch All Black supporter (even though she is Irish and living in Oz) so the rivalry always has an added egde!

  3. Just slowly watched this past weekend’s test again…

    Bliksem but Morne Steyn was superb…. He was key in every single try.

    In that Jean De Villiers try he was the one that sent the backline away.

    And as Jean De Viliers took the pass from Pienaar the man running the dummy line inside of him was …. Morne Steyn….

    When Pienaar broke right for the set play try it was Morne Steyn that threw the signal to break right.

    And when Willie Le Roux scored guess who was running on his inside as support runner…

    Jis Brendon but you and your gang of Cape dorks are going to realize how good he is when it’s too late…