Ghosts of ’92 stalk Newlands01/03/2019 - Author: admin - Comments are closed
Mud and guts: Ewen McKenzie’s Wallabies slug it out at Newlands in their first Test against the Springboks after their readmission to world rugby in 1992. The Wallabies stunned the hosts 26-3 to confirm their status as world champions. Photo: AllsportTable Top Mountain is a prominent landmark that dominates life here in Cape Town. It’s so damn big that the locals will never have to worry about finding a house with mountain views as you can’t help but be encapsulated by its magnitude.
Right now I’m looking straight at it from the fifth floor of our hotel, and you can only just see the skyline above its mass. It’s a view I’ve become very familiar with and have seen many times before since I first visited Newlands in South Africa with the Wallabies back in 1992.
Since then, I’ve stayed in every one of the six levels the hotel has to offer. I’ve been to this hotel so many times that I’ve witnessed numerous renovations, and while the rooms haven’t gotten any bigger, they have received new paint jobs and installed new furniture. Every time I return you can’t help but notice the small changes and improvements while you also find yourself reflecting on past memories – good and bad – of Cape Town. We won our first Test here in 1992, which was a hugely important game as it represented the readmission of South Africa into world Rugby. They were gunning for us as they did not value Australia’s Rugby World Cup win in 1991 as they were not there.
We proved them wrong in the mud of Newlands, and it was a record score that stood for a long time. That game was about pure pressure. The fear of an unknown opponent was a huge challenge. We knew who they were, and the locals made sure we heard about them every day for the fortnight leading into the match. The only thing was that we just had never played against that group of players before.
I was back in Cape Town in 1995 – same hotel and playing on the same ground. We were based here for the first Test of the Rugby World Cup, a match we lost and where I was up against the massive 135 kilogram Os du Randt. Coincidently, I was up against him once against in the coach’s box last week in Bloemfontein, and we ever shared the lift together pregame. We are using the same team space now for the Reds as we did with the Wallabies in 1995. As I presented at our team meeting, I could not help but recall the musings of Bob Dwyer in that very room during our World Cup preparations. You might have got inkling about the significance to the South Africans of that World Cup and of our match from the movie Invictus. It was heady stuff but I still wonder how my body-double in the movie had blonde hair! That’s showbiz though, and I digress.
The Reds just finished a training session at the Villagers Club, which was the same venue the Wallaby group in 1995 spent more than three weeks at spilling a bit of blood and sweat. I swapped some nostalgia with the Reds, explaining the goings-on nearly 20 years ago and even how some of the grounds and clubs have changed. Not much has stayed the same – there are new offices that surround the ground, and the clubhouse has gone – expect for that big mountain in the background.
Things, however, have not always been joyous here in Cape Town. I distinctly recall five days here during a period of crisis in energy supply when we enjoyed hotel living without the luxury of any power. I can assure you that staying on the fifth and sixth floors are not so salubrious when you are forced to constantly take the stairs. It was funny for a day but that wry smile ended on the second and life as a hermit commenced after that.
There are a lot of other memories and moments that people remember about Cape Town. I remember picking up a copy of the Cape Argus, which is the afternoon paper, and reading about the infamous Brumbies taxi cab damage incident where our players were on the front page for the wrong reasons. It caused a storm of publicity and resentment that lasted many years.
They were also the ones who ran the story about one of our players vomiting in a pot plant, which I was also here for. In fact, I think I even ran the disciplinary proceedings from the very same room I am in now, eventually seeing the player return home. These were some of the more unpleasant memories.
But, that’s life down here. Big, bold and complicated, and that’s before you even take on the Stormers. We were in this same hotel two years ago when we were expected to lose to the rarely defeated Stormers. We won 19-6 before going on to win the title.
Right now, I can see the Newlands ground just a few hundred metres’ walk away, which is the main reason we stay here. We are here to compete. Putting aside all the distractions of Cape Town, we are here for business, and while the little things keep on changing, the rugby coliseum at the foot of the mountain is waiting as it has since 1992.
It boasts the largest and noisiest regular season crowds of the Super Rugby tournament and is a bloody hard place to play. We need to keep the crowd quiet if we want to be successful – no easy task is such a busy and vibrant place.
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