#RWC10: Going, going, back, back, to Paris, Paris … (Shoutout to Biggie)
Sheldon Morais, channelling Notorious BIG's Going back to Cali, takes a trip back to a chilly night in Paris on 20 October 2007.
Some moments you’ll always remember, and then there are a few that you’ll never forget. This is about going back to an unforgettable night in Paris.
The afternoon of 24 June 1995 is one day I’ll always remember. I was in Standard 5. The sun was out. And after watching the tension-filled match at a friend’s house, my friends and I dashed out on the streets of Parkview where we screamed, hugged and high-fived each other, passing motorists providing the soundtrack of hooting horns to our magical short story of victory.
The evening of 20 October 2007 was something else. It was cold. Gone were the shorts and T-shirts of 1995. My friends were scattered across South Africa and other parts of the world. I was alone. In a country in which I couldn’t speak the language. But I was in Paris and the Springboks were in the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup!
Their opponents were England, a hapless team they obliterated 36-0 in the group stages. But this was a final and the nerves were inevitable. “What if we choked?” “What if England continued to improve and were the ones who were peaking at just the right time?” Were we to see glory, have her within our grasp only to be swept away by the underdogs?
And make no mistake, England were the underdogs. On the field and across the city. Paris was a vibe! South Africans and adopted Springbok supporters filled the main public viewing area with inimitable gees, proudly planting our flags across the zone, colonising it and turning it into Boktown.
After missing my flight (yes, I missed my initial flight to Paris for the Rugby World Cup Final, but that’s a story for another day), I made sure there was no way I was going to miss my coach to the Stade de France, especially as there was a transport workers’ strike in country I was visiting for the first time.
After throwing on my replica Bok jersey, followed by a short bus ride across town, I was standing outside the majestic Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Shuffling through the turnstile transported me to a magical world in which I was alone but not lonely. A world in which 30 men on a green Persian carpet captured my imagination and conjured up an ethereal dream.
This may surprise many of you, but I don’t remember much about the actual match, save for Danie Roussouw’s Cup-winning tackle on English wing Mark Cueto. But it wasn’t about the tries, tackles & penalties – this was about so much more. It was about respecting and saluting the nine-year-old English girl balling in the face of her team’s loss. It was about seeing a socially awkward President Thabo Mbeki being hoisted into the Paris night, sitting atop the shoulders of giants, who respected him as a statesman, but embraced him with the familiarity reserved for a friend.
Instead of running out onto the streets of Parkview, I traversed Paris, asking for directions in broken Frenglish, bumping into Olympian Ryk Neethling on the final subway train as we both casually made our way back to our hotels. I’ll always remember the Parkview motorists, but I’ll never forget feeling a momentary bond with Ryk Neethling on a train in Paris on the night our countrymen summited rugby’s highest peak.
Ideally, the night would’ve ended with a raucous Parisian party, but I toasted our victory over a couple of whiskeys in a quaint side-street café with a fellow South African I never saw again. In some ways, this was the perfect way to celebrate a triumph secured through grit, passion and a nation’s ability to momentarily unite … and then split to live our separate lives again.
I’ll always remember Parkview 1995, but I’ll never forget Paris 2007.
Sheldon Morais is EWN's Online Editor. In a Springbok rugby jersey he looks remarkably like JP Pietersen. Just shorter. (Sub-editor: Sorry boss).