There’s a case to be made that the most passionate supporters of the All Blacks aren’t in the shallow, banking stands behind the posts at Eden Park. You won’t find them filling up the yellow seats at Westpac Stadium, or under the roof at Forsyth Barr in Dunedin, either.
All evidence points to them being in the aged stands of Newlands this weekend. For the first time in almost a decade, the All Blacks will play the Springboks in Cape Town – where the local support for New Zealand may well rival that of the Springboks.
That’s why, for some of us, this is the most interesting test match of the year. Yes, some of the lustre that this match brings has been taken off by the unbelievable demolition job the All Blacks laid on in Albany a few weeks ago. Despite a fighting draw against the Wallabies since, the fall out from the biggest loss in the Springboks’ history is ongoing – with questions over the head coach Allister Coetzee’s ability and the ever present debate about the merit of certain selections.
But even that hasn’t completely overshadowed why this one is more than just another test match.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 2, 2017
Cape Town used to be a regular fixture on All Black tours to South Africa. It is, after all, the country’s second largest city and stronghold of rugby. But since their readmission to international rugby in 1992, the All Blacks have only played there four times. Of those four, they’ve won three. But that’s not the reason why their presence in the city has been so sparse.
100 test All Black Mils Muilaina played there twice, in 2005 and 2009. He says on The Short Ball podcast that ‘it’s honestly like playing a home game’.
“It’s not just what you get in the stadium. As soon as you get off the bus it’s a sea of black, some of the fans even sing the NZ national anthem.”
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The city is home to the country’s largest community of coloureds (the South African name given to people of mixed race), a sizeable section of whom openly cheer for the All Blacks, as well as visiting New Zealand Super Rugby teams.
Like many issues in South Africa, the original reason for this is rooted in the apartheid years. Coloured people were disenfranchised along with all other non-whites, and many harboured a deep resentment for anything promoting South African nationalism – one of which was the then all-white Springbok team. So, naturally, seeing them getting beaten was a strike back at the system of oppression affecting their everyday lives.
However, it’s not just politics that have seen New Zealand get such fervent support. For Cape Town All Black fans like Tauriq Ebrahim, a lot of it has to do with simply watching good rugby.
“You will find that the older generation supported the All Blacks due to the fact that during Hendrik Verwoed’s term as Prime Minister, he did not allow Maori players to play against the Boks. Now at that time, the coloured community saw these Maori players as their heroes because of the colour of their skin. They saw other countries are giving ‘their people’ a chance on the international stage but their own government wasn’t allowing it. As a result of this, that generation supported the All Blacks.” he says.
However, it was an All Black tradition and players that won him over as a kid.
“The haka had me immediately. I kind of based my support for a team on an individual I enjoyed watching. So as an eight-year-old watching the RWC ‘95 it was the late Jonah Lomu, then came King Carlos Spencer.”
“I think it is important to understand why Capetonians support the All Blacks. Depending on the generation you ask, you would typically get a different answer. The All Blacks currently play a brand of rugby that is similar to that of the old SARU style where ball in hand was the order of the day and possession was valued.” he says.
Also, the old adage of simply backing a winner plays a big part in his support for the All Blacks.
“South Africans love winning. So when you see a team doing well, you will want to be associated with that success. This would be the second or third generation supporters – they are unaware of the history or politics behind the support for the All Blacks, but support them because they are currently the most successful country in World Rugby.”
Tauriq says there’s certainly a different atmosphere at Newlands when NZ-based teams play, something he puts down to the camaraderie between the locals fans of the All Blacks and Kiwi sides.
As for the result on Saturday, Tauriq is sticking with the All Blacks ‘by around 20 points’. Given the way his team has been playing lately, it’s pretty hard to disagree with that prediction.
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