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The Springboks and the Holy Grail

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It may well be the best rugby book I have ever read – Dan Retief’s story of four Rugby World Cups.

Paul Dobson, rugby365

I found it engrossing – for the memories it recalled and for the insights it gave, as it took me through 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007 and the years in between.

Where I cheered then, I cheered again; where I cried then, I cried again; where I was angry then, I was angry again; where I was embarrassed then, I was embarrassed all over again. It misses nothing of the facts and emotions of those years – triumph, disappointment, disgrace and triumph.

And there is the possibility of all that fascination again this year. The Rugby World Cup has been momentous for the world of rugby and, of course, for South Africa.

Dan Retief’s book leaves nothing out and indeed adds much that I did not know, which makes it more than just a record of events. It is always good to learn, and a lot can learnt about those times – from Retief’s attention to detail (He gets facts right) to his broad brushstrokes.

It is more than a record of events because of Retief’s autobiographical closeness to it all. His work here is not just camera shot; it is art.

Retief has always been able to write well – both in what he writes and the way he writes it. He has quick but compete insights into the many rich and varied facets of South African rugby.

Retief takes the reader through the process of unification that made full international participation possible, the 1995 World Cup in South Africa and the important role-players in it – from dominant Louis Luyt to creative Merle McKenna and her pageants, that whole family of Springboks to the supporters, from dangerous weather to failed lights, from the possibilities of success to the possibilities of failure, from a glorious to triumph and a sour aftertaste, from determination to rugby’s biggest payday up to that time. And in all there was the new nation bursting into radiant bloom.

There was the almost success of 1999, besmirched by the dropping of Gary Teichmann but nearly rescued by the magical boot of emotionless Jannie de Beer.

On the journey rattled to the woes of 2003 with abhorrent Kamp Staaldraad and failure, and then the glorious comeback in France when South Africa were the clearest World Cup winners since 1987.

It is a beautiful book, one to treasure. Only somebody who loved and respected his subject and his art could produce such a book.

The Springboks and the Holy Grail
By Dan Retief
Published by Zebra Press
294 pages
Soft cover
2011
Illustrated in colour

PS. CNA is selling it at R199.

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