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Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Springboks may have lost in Marseille, but it was a clash for the ages

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Marseille – They were singing down the streets of Marseille, all the way back to the Old Harbour on Saturday night.

In full voice, the Trii fluttering above their heads, the French rejoicing for they had just beaten the Springboks 30-26 for the first time since 2009, snapping a seven-match losing streak against the Green and Gold, while extending their victorious stride to 12.

Les Blues have now beaten every major opponent in the last year, reinforcing the belief that they are one of, if not, the early favourites to claim the Webb Ellis Trophy in 2023 in a fourth attempt.

During this week in the buildup to the 45th meeting of the two nations, there was a sense of anticipation, held back, confident and reserved through jestinging smiles.

But, as spectators peeled out of the Velodrome, the relief was palpable, the feeling become tangible that their team had the momentum to march on to something beautiful. It was quite a ride to get to that epiphany.

The encounter had much drama, oscillating between elation and pain – and the collective mind that sat in watching, experienced several emotions during a spectacular clash of the titans of world rugby. They whistled, they jeered, they sang songs of liberation and triumph, they made thoughtful comments, and burst into quickfire wrath when they deemed themselves to be unfairly judged.

From the high eerie of our hospitality, that electric wave rippled through the bowl and from that viewpoint, Stuart Barnes must have felt it, too. France should have buried the Boks while they were down to 14 men after the departure of Pieter-Steph du Toit.

The crowd certainly knew that much, and their frustrations crept from down the top-most tier into the soil of the pitch, and pulsed into the French team through some desperate plays and silly errors. Once they had mastered that emotion, however, with the backing of their magnificent supporters, they translated that energy into victory.

Many will argue that the moment coiled itself around the nerves of Barnes, who was under immense pressure in the final 20 minutes from the hounding crowd, but it should not dispel the fact that this was a brilliant game of rugby to watch, and a momentous advertisement for the game and the World Cup.

It was clear that the victory meant a great deal.

After the match, as the French senior men’s team completed their lap of honour, the Velodrome heaved with joy, supporters refusing to leave the stadium but rather enjoy the moment. They did so in song and dance, raising the decibels to over 90 as recorded by stadium; and as they left the ground, that continued outward into the city, dispersing like a blue liquid injection into the veins of a living organism.

They partied down the causeways, the main arteries and the narrow lanes. Here and there, clumps of Bok fans trundled to destinations unknown, defeated in the match but nevertheless joy-filled that they had experienced such a clash.

They wrapped their flag proudly around themselves, warding off a nip in the air that had descended on Marseille during the afternoon. They walked past packed establishments, restaurants and pubs moving happily to fine drink and glorious food.

Down the main lanes, through the inner-city and all the way down to the Old Harbour some 6km away they celebrated. You’d expect that was true in every other direction as well.

The Boks might have lost but make no mistake, rugby was the big winner on Saturday night.


IOL Sport

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