America's Webb-Ellis moment
WATCHING the Sharks against the Jaguares in the Irish tavern
on Florida Road late last Friday a week ago, I found myself
sitting beside an American environmental expert who said he
could more or less follow rugby but was totally baffled by
I sympathised. Some of us have been playing and following
cricket all our lives and are also baffled.
This fellow seemed to be following the Sharks-Jaguares
encounter with a pretty good grasp. Perhaps it's common
How did American Football – gridiron - originate? One theory is
that back in the 19 th century two universities played football
against each other. But when the visiting team arrived, it
turned out that one side played by the code of the Rugby
Football Union, the other by the code of Association Football –
But the visitors had come a long way and it seemed a pity to
waste the occasion – so they took to the field playing by both
codes. Hence crunching tackles and long, lone forward passes,
soccer-style but by hand.
It was America's William Webb-Ellis moment. From this,
American Football evolved.
That's the theory anyway. But be careful betting on it in bars
because it's difficult to prove.
Whatever, back to the present. Tomorrow night's Springboks-
Wales Test at the JFK Stadium, Washington DC (45 000 seats) is
only the start of a counter-attack campaign by American Rugby.
Union, which is Increasingly popular on university campuses.
The promoters seek to take the game up a notch or two or
three or four in popularity.
Does this mean America will in time walk big in world rugby? I
reckon so. Sigh! Does this mean yet another conveyor belt to
take our top players overseas? Er, probably yes.
But let us address immediate contingencies. Can the Boks this
time turn it around against Wales? Has the Rassie factor played
Probably yes – but it's still a knife-edge.
Another contingency – can the damsels of the Street Shelter for
the Over-Forties be kept under control for a late-night game
with several hours of warm-up? It's another knife-edge. But, all
going well in Washington, stand by for a fashioning of catapults
from knicker elastic for the traditional celebratory feu de joie in
which the streetlights are shot out.
"Erewego, 'erewego, ''erewego!
GOLD in them thar hills? Have they struck it rich down at
Harding? Or is it Fool's Gold?
In my schooldays we used to spot gold flecks in abundance in
the sand of the Ntsuze River in Zululand a river that flows clean
and cold from the Qudeni hills, sometimes even fed by
snowmelt – not what you'd expect in that region.
But it was iron pyrites – Fool's Gold.
But did that mean there was no gold around? Not at all. On the
farm where I spent school holidays there was an abandoned
gold mine, old stamp mills and other equipment, a shaft blasted
horizontally into the solid rock of the hillside with two side-
branches, several hundred metres in all.
Did the gold run out? No, Britain went off the gold standard in
the 1920s and the mine became uneconomical. The gold is still
The same was true of a mine not too far away in the Nkandla
forest. The pub in Nkandla village (not to be confused with JZ's
pad some distance away in the same magisterial district) had a
bar counter made of a rough slab of rock from the mine.
On special occasions the barman would pour a bottle of whisky
onto the slab, each miner poised at the end of a runnel to get
his share. Them wuz the days.
Near the first-mentioned mine there were some dreadful
collapses, many decades after it closed, when local folk tried
their hand at mining not too far away' knowing there was gold
in the area. Several died.
Whether or not the folk at Harding have really struck it lucky,
the authorities will have to take control, otherwise tragic
accidents are just about guaranteed.
"My ex-husband wants to marry me again."
"Not really. I think he's after the money I married him for."
The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we
do not understand.