There was nervous tension aplenty on the start line of Stage 2 of the FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz race; on Saturday, 2 November. The start time was brought forward to 06:00 and a short-cut was added to ensure everyone who wanted to watch the Rugby World Cup Final was able to. So, when the Springbok’s kicked off against England – at 11:00 local time – the Race Village was filled with riders and crew.
Few were to be seen riding or strolling around between the marquees, tents or stalls, however. Virtually every eye in Oak Valley was locked on a television screen. 80 minutes later, the 04:00 am wake-up call, the hour and a half time adjustment for taking the short cut, and all the nerves were worth it.
Despite starting the match as underdogs, following England’s barnstorming win against the world number one All Blacks, the men in green and gold prevailed – turning physical dominance into a resounding 32-12 win. A victory margin only exceeded by Australia when they defeated France, 35-12, in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
There was no early indication that the game would finish with a 20-point margin of victory. “I expect it to be a 3-point game” former Springbok captain Corné Krige predicted earlier in the day. A tense first half, which finished 12-6, pointed to the wisdom of Krige’s prediction.
Willed on by the throngs of riders gathered in the FNB Rider Lounge, Woolworths Rider Dining, and Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone, along with the 58 Million South Africans watching from within the Rainbow Nation and abroad, the Springboks tightened the noose. Utilising their scrum dominance to keep piling on the pressure, they drove the English back and kept the scoreboard ticking over.
A brief swing in momentum, when England were awarded two kickable penalties in three minutes, was stopped by Owen Farrell missing the second kick at goal. During those brief moments, one could hear a freehub spin in the silent Race Village. The few English fans in attendance had the good sense to stifle their cheers.
The tide turned for the good when Handrè Pollard slotted his sixth penalty of the match. 9 points up with 20 minutes to play, even the most sceptical Springbok fans were starting to believe. A fourth penalty for Farrell and England did little to dent the growing confidence, which was spectacularly rewarded in the 66th minute.
One of the quirks of watching the game in the Race Village was the timing of the various feeds. While the main viewing areas were connected to SuperSport via satellite, small clusters of fans were gathered around laptops watching on DSTV Now. With the online streaming feed delayed by over a minute, the fans watching through that service were forwarded of any significant moment.
Makazole Mapimpi’s try was the loudest such instance. It sounded for all the world as if the massive Bedouin tent, which houses the Cape Brewing Co Chill Zone, would be blown from its tethers. Such was the wall of noise which erupted from it. When Pollard added the 2 extra points, by way of a simple conversion, the 13-point buffer it provided sent the Race Village into raptures.
When Cheslin Kolbe scored the try which put the game beyond doubt, 9 minutes later, the FNB Wines2Whales Oak Valley Race Village was already in full party mode. Queen’s “We are the Champions” was blaring over the emotional rugby commentary being piped through the loudspeakers. Siya Kolisi’s men had defied the odds and united a nation.
Sunday’s 69-kilometre-long final stage may seem longer and more arduous than it otherwise would be, though rumours of a later start to accommodate those who continue the celebrations late into the night are entirely unfounded. There is prize money to be won and who knows; maybe South African Marathon Champion Arno du Toit, and his DSV Pro Cycling partner Gert Heyns, will upset the odds on Stage 3 by drawing inspiration for the Springboks to overrun the favourites NAD Pro MTB.