Cape Town – The Springboks potentially playing premier rivals the All Blacks in cities like this one and Port Elizabeth again from 2016, even as they remain relative bastions of support for the visitors, is the right move by the South African Rugby Union.
In announcing the domestic centres for Bok games in the curtailed 2015 calendar – given the presence of another World Cup from September – SARU simultaneously revealed through CEO Jurie Roux that from the following year onward, the current world champions and No 1-ranked power would no longer necessarily be restricted to Highveld centres.
It has been the norm in recent seasons (since 2012) for South Africa to host the New Zealanders exclusively in Johannesburg – whether at Ellis Park or FNB Stadium – and the trend continues for a fourth time next year as the former venue, now to be renamed Emirates Airline Park, stages the single-round clash between the foes in the reduced Castle Lager Rugby Championship on July 25.
The trend has been influenced in part by the belief that it is best to play the All Blacks at lung-busting high altitude, but also by the significant presence in the two major Cape Test centres of NZ-partial inhabitants there, which can cause near-inevitable tensions at times.
But the first reason has lost much lustre given that the New Zealanders have won three of the last four clashes in the Big Smoke (sometimes very comfortably), and were only pipped 27-25 by a last-gasp, long-range Pat Lambie penalty goal in the latest, dead-rubber meeting earlier this year.
The hard, fast surfaces in the interior of South Africa actually appear to aid the All Blacks’ fluid, 15-man style of play.
Newlands, traditionally one of the best-attended venues in the country both for Tests and at other levels, has been given a wide berth for NZ Tests since 2008, when the All Blacks won 19-0, although the Boks had won the previous Capetonian encounter 22-16 in 2005.
Port Elizabeth, another centre where the All Blacks – more often to their bemusement than genuine pleasure – attract quite strong backing from home-town folk, hosted them in 2011, when South Africa prevailed 18-5, so it is not as though that support serves as an irresistible factor in NZ favour.
Roux said that the recent policy of restricting the All Blacks to Johannesburg had been reviewed after compelling cases put forward by unions like the Sharks and Western Province for getting that particularly attractive slice of the Test-match pie back.
The fixture would be moved around the country again from 2016 onward, he confirmed.
Given South Africa’s often stormy, divided heritage, a lobby supporting overseas teams (and especially the globally crowd-pleasing All Blacks) was always likely even following the fall of apartheid, and it is not showing any special signs of dispersing yet.
It is the democratic right of “Cape All Blacks” and “Cape Crusaders” fan bases to exist, regardless of how distasteful or bewildering many South Africans find the trend, and really the best way to deal with it is to simply wear the green and gold and sing for the Bok cause with special gusto as a counter.
Taking South Africa v New Zealand Test matches back into the hotspots of “Cape All Blacks” is better than effectively bowing to that lobby – to the detriment of the tens of thousands in those centres firmly behind the Boks anyway – by sheepishly side-stepping grounds like Newlands or Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Besides, just because New Zealand Tests have been solely in Johannesburg of late is no deterrent to busloads of SA-based All Blacks enthusiasts from the coast, in particular, making the trek.
The Boks should be able to unashamedly play wherever their home supporters, regardless of location, wish to see them and not be hijacked or, at the very least, embarrassed by any rival-leaning influences.
Putting All Black Tests back in a broader South African scheduling pot is the right thing to do.
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