How good was the All Blacks' victory at the weekend? Even during the World Cup final last year I don't think I was as stressed about the result as I was about Sunday morning's (NZ time) game against South Africa. Because if we'd lost, I shudder to think how my friends and I would've survived the rabid (only a slight exaggeration) South African crowd.
I've been to only two All Blacks matches (both away games) and the atmospheres at each couldn't have been more dissimilar. The first was a Bledisloe Cup game in Melbourne a couple of years ago. The Kiwi to Aussie supporter ratio was about even (most Victorians don't care about rugby), there was a respectful silence for the haka and even though we lost, I didn't fear any hassling at work on Monday. Most people didn't know there was a game on, and if they did, they didn't care.
Contrast that with the level of rugby fanaticism in Soweto. From the swarms of green-and-gold-shirted fans wandering the city during the day, to the banter at traffic lights, it was a fun rivalry.
Until we got to the stadium, and the ribbing developed a mean-spirited edge. Most people kept up the friendly jibes. But there were enough fans who pulled the fingers at us, screamed at us during our national anthem and yelled abuse at us throughout the match to sour the atmosphere. And is it normal that you can't hear the haka at an away match? We didn't have a chance with all the yelling and singing aimed at drowning it out.
It wasn't only us native Kiwis who copped it either. Many South Africans have ditched their national team in favour of ours (the trend dates back to apartheid when rugby was a whites-only sport) and they're brave to do so publicly. I was shocked at the insults being hurled at them by their countrymen.
They held themselves together with grace though. A couple of guys in front of us were from Eastern Cape but love the silver fern and make a point of watching one live All Blacks game a year. Even Ted got mistaken for a South African - the woman next to him couldn't believe he knew the words to the New Zealand national anthem.
Thank goodness we won! Because during that nail-biting first half, I think every Kiwi at the game was contemplating how they'd disguise themselves in order to make it out of the stadium in one piece if we lost. I noticed that the taunts subsided in the second half. Funny that.
Indeed, attitudes were markedly different after the game, as many people congratulated us. It was sweet victory in the face of hostility I hope I don't have to witness again.
And I thought the Australia vs New Zealand rivalry was vicious.
Have you had a similar sporting experience somewhere? Do we Kiwis have a similar attitude toward away fans?
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