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Champions of the World…

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The day after England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the brilliant Daily Telegraph cartoonist Matt came up with a front page sketch. Two guys were down at their local, and over a pint of beer, one said to the other: “First 1966 – now this. When are we going to give someone else a chance?”

Writes Gary Lemke for the Cape Argus

England is a sports crazy nation, but they have been starved of success. That 1966 soccer World Cup win and the 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph are still talked about as if they happened yesterday; a rare Ashes victory in 2005 was followed by a week-long affair of public binge drinking, open-top bus parades and tea with the Queen.

In South Africa, the winning of this year’s Rugby World Cup was also marked with open-top bus parades, but the moment John Smit handed the Webb Ellis Cup over to Saru president Oregan Hoskins at Newlands, the celebrations were stopped.

Two hours later Saru issued a statement saying that Jake White was not on the shortlist of four for the Springbok coaching position. The cork had popped but the champagne wasn’t allowed to flow.

Now, just two months after winning the Rugby World Cup, greater South Africa has put back on its straitjacket; 2007 isn’t even over and already we are talking 2011 (and speculating about how the next coach will destroy all that White built much like those embroiled in politics are discussing the future of the country).

What Mark Keohane has done in Champions of the World A Magnificent Seven Weeks, is give us a coffee-table book to remind us what the Boks achieved in France, and for those visiting from planet Zog, it was seven weeks in which South Africa won the World Cup for the second time since 1995.

Maybe they’ll even decide to give New Zealand a chance in 2011.

Keohane’s work graced the pages of the Cape Argus in the build-up to, and over the duration of the World Cup. Hindsight might be an exact science, but Champions of the World underlines the work he did for both this publication, for SA Rugby magazine and for his website keo.co.za.

Each article has been in the public domain before – and that’s part of the appeal of this book.

Months before the World Cup Keohane was telling us that the Springboks would win the World Cup and the book simply reflects his views and assessments and, often, those of White himself.

There is no smoke and mirrors, no extravagant sub-editing, re-writing or doctoring of headlines. This book charts the journey of the World Cup and any hard truths were spelled out then.

So, don’t expect to find any gossip, inside stories, headline-catching revelations all that was done at the time.

Keohane, whom White himself acknowledges in the book’s foreword, was the only journalist to have 24/7 access to the Springbok coach at the World Cup.

It shows how readers of the Cape Argus benefited from such privileged insight, but here the author has put all his work together in this collection.

Admittedly, Keohane did get two calls wrong he felt France could not beat the All Blacks and that England would not reach the final but when it came to the Springboks the only thing he missed was the extent of the beating the Boks would give the world champions (England) in their pool match.

Keohane felt the winning margin would be 20 points; White felt it would be 30 and at the time this was reflected in the Cape Argus, but some contacted this newspaper to call these rugby fountains of knowledge arrogant. It needs to be mentioned that the Boks won 36-0.

This is Keohane’s third book, and is a change of pace from his first two, Chester, the autobiography, and Springbok Rugby Uncovered. It should also be his proudest work.

There is good use of pictures, the presentation is lively and the package itself lends itself to a timeless shelf life.

If England can still celebrate their 1966 soccer World Cup triumph, then hang on to Champions of the World, for it will stand the test of time as a reminder of what South Africa achieved, and what was being said and done in their finest moment to date.