Grassroots rugby, especially as its played in Johannesburg, shows the finer side of the game. And while that’s cause for cheer, there are those who seem not to appreciate what they have in their back yards. The same might be said for the Green and Gold, who just lost Peter Maimane.
Amid the at times indigestion-causing diet of almost never-ending top-level rugby that fills our TV screens from February to November, it was most enjoyable to spend some time at the grassroots level, watching the Jozi Tens at the Pirates Club a couple of weeks ago.
The Jozi Tens is a social 10-a-side rugby tournament combined with top musical entertainment and more than a little beer drinking. It is a wonderful reminder that the vast majority of people who play rugby do it for the fun and camaraderie. Those stars we follow and criticise on our television screens at SuperRugby, Currie Cup or Springbok level really are the upper percentile.
It is common sense that if you don’t nurture the levels at which the vast majority of rugby players participate, then you’re not going to be as successful in finding that top 1% that carries the hopes of the nation in the Green and Gold.
While the Jozi Tens was tremendous fun and a great new addition to the local club rugby calendar, two things, one before the tournament and one in the aftermath, took some of the shine off the event.
The latter was the unreasonable reaction of some people living near the Pirates club in Greenside. The club had notified its neighbours and obtained all the necessary police approval, and never went beyond agreed times during the weekend. In fact, the bad weather meant the music and noise generally stopped before the midnight deadline.
But some neighbours were still unhappy and subjected the club administrator to unnecessary abuse. They should instead have applauded a club for doing something uplifting for the local community in these tough times.
Before the tournament, I was saddened by the untimely death earlier in the week of Peter Maimane, the former Springbok technical analyst.
The 41-year-old Maimane served under Peter de Villiers from 2008 to 2011 and the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has said the Springboks would wear black armbands to mourn his passing back home “in front of our own people”. It is believed that this will happen on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld during the Rugby Championship Test against Australia, but there has been no confirmation.
In its statement mourning his death, Saru said Maimane, apart from his technical expertise, brought “great humour and positivity to brighten the team environment”. Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said Maimane was “an integral part of the team”.
Peter Maimane was a good friend of the media too; always cheerful with a wonderful smile and passionate about the game. He was only too happy to discuss the finer details of rugby. He was a man that epitomised the very ethos of the game and its values. And yet the reward for all this hard work and positivity he brought was to find himself in the rugby wilderness at the time of his death.
As a black man with valuable experience at the highest level, Maimane had so much to offer, but at the end of his term with the Springboks he was forced to involve himself with other business projects.
Having obtained his first coaching qualification at the age of 23, Maimane went on to coach various age group teams before leading the Blue Bulls Merit A side to their championship title in 2003. He also worked as a technical adviser to both the Bulls and Lions SuperRugby teams – whom he also managed, as well as the SA U19 and Emerging South Africa teams before joining the Springboks.
No one from Saru or any representative from the team he was allegedly such an “integral” part of bothered to attend his funeral.
When the Springboks hopefully stand for a moment’s silence on the Loftus Versfeld field to honour Maimane, perhaps they should reflect on how people like him, the rank and file of the club structures, make the game great and provide the foundation for the stars to shine on the biggest stages.
Saru are working hard on club rugby and last week announced the Community Cup, which will kick off in 2013 and will feature 20 of the top open, non-varsity clubs in the country in a tournament that will culminate in a grand final between the winners of their tournament and the Varsity Cup.
The 20 clubs will be divided into four pools of five, with the top two teams from each pool then playing in the knockout stages in the same format that is used in the World Cup. The knockout stages will be played over the Easter Weekend and should recapture the atmosphere of the old club championships in Durban.
But the big gesture is not always the one that has the most enduring impact.
Maimane represented the hopes of so many of the black rugby community but the powers that be merely closed the door on his career, showing the same lack of appreciation as those miserable complainers living near Pirates.
The overwhelming feeling is a sense of waste and the game, with all the transformation challenges it faces, cannot afford that. DM
Ken Borland hails from the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal and was educated in the Midlands before going to Joburg in 2004. For a small fee, he'll write or talk about anything and has been a contributor for Reuters, SuperSport, the BBC, various other radio stations around the world, and Midi Olympique. He has covered rugby and cricket World Cups and, even though his own game is a disgrace, numerous golf tournaments. In fact, he took up writing when it became clear he was not going to be actually playing in the big stadiums, no matter how keen he was! When he's not around a sports field somewhere, Ken is invariably in the bush, birdwatching, although the sea and its conchological riches also fascinate him. He is a keen follower of music and movies.