Rugby is a Religion in South Africa : Tell me when you hear about Rugby, which is the first country that comes to your mind? There aren’t any prizes for guessing. You immediately think of South Africa. If you are an Indian, you can equate the importance of rugby for South Africa with that of Cricket. Cricket for India is like a religion.
Here, you have cricket players in every nook and corner, but hardly few rugby players. In fact, only the other day I read on Connected app, a prominent Indian social media platform that India’s best rugby player is Rahul Bose, a full time Bollywood actor.
But why is that? What makes South Africa so important for a game like Rugby? And why are they so good in a sport like Rugby? Let’s try to find answers.
Take any European country rugby team, they will all have few South African players. In fact, every professional rugby Club in the world will have at least one or two from Springbok in their ranks.
South Africans are Better Suited for Rugby
How important are South African players for the survival of a prestigious tournament like Gallagher Premiership can be understood by the fact that in 13 teams that participate in the tournament, there are almost 50 South African players who appear for different teams.
The director of Sale Sharks gave an insight why South Africans are so good in rugby. He knows it better than anyone because he worked as a coach for many South African teams. According to him, barring few players, most of the South African players are massive in built, and that really helps in a game like rugby.
Besides, they are also very polite. Therefore, they can be easily coached and moulded to become very good players. This makes the job of coach comparatively easier because he won’t have to change his methodology to suit particular players. Such players easily fit into the processes a coach is normally used to unlike players from some countries who because of their cultural divide and background find it difficult to adjust.
It’s All About Culture and Body-type
You cannot decide how good a rugby team of a country may be based on the demographics playing the game because you may be unaware of the reasons that make them choose rugby in the first place.
In countries like South Africa and England, there’s a tradition for playing rugby that attracts people to this game. The reasons why so many men choose to play rugby is more of a social than their interest in the game. In fact, the rugby teams are often ridiculed as drinking clubs with fetish for rugby.
Actually, most South Africans pick this game because it’s part of their culture, and not because they really want to excel in the game or are built in a certain way. This is different from a country like Australia which is more of a country of spectators rather than of players.
So, if you are playing rugby in a country like South Africa, you will be considered respectable. It’s not the same in countries like England or New Zealand which are two other major rugby playing countries. There, playing rugby is like playing other sports like Cricket, tennis, or soccer.
Also, physically gifted South Africans will be more keen to play this game, and excel. Moreover, average South Africans also possess a certain body type – strong built, upright stance and sharp reflexes. Now, these are the basic ingredients to become a good rugby player.
It’s not as if only South Africans are gifted with special talent to play rugby. Talent is undoubtedly evenly spread across the globe, but not the certain body composition. To play rugby at the highest level, you will need a particular build that is considered most appropriate for the game of rugby. There are few exceptions, but on the whole if you don’t possess a certain body type, you cannot make it to the top, no matter how talented you are.
Therefore, those countries where people have generally large bodies who also possess talent will perform better than other countries. They will also have a larger number of players of international level.
One of the greatest fans of rugby was Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s ex President. When apartheid was banned, the country was literally divided between Whites and Blacks. Since whites traditionally ruled the country, they were not prepared to accept the hegemony of a black president. Mandela knew that something needs to be done quickly, or the divide will broaden further.
He knew that rugby can be an excellent tool to unite his divided country especially after apartheid fell. In fact, it was Mandela who orchestrated South Africa’s victory in the debut World Cup that was hosted in the same country. It was such a historical moment that later a movie called ‘Invictus’ was made in Hollywood directed by Clint Eastwood, featuring Matt Damon, and Morgan Freeman.
It’s in their DNA
It will be appropriate to say that rugby is in the DNA of South Africans. Right from school to college level, there is extraordinary infrastructure for the game with excellent ground, coaching facilities and the promoters of the game. Players are strictly chosen on merit, and not on recommendations.
South Africa isn’t a rich country as the majority of people still struggle to manage even the basic needs of life. They know that rugby is their biggest insurance and a means to attain stardom and recognition. They make sure that the opportunities that they get should be utilized in the best possible manner.
Moreover, rugby in South Africa is not concentrated to just one ethnic group. The game is equally popular among blacks, whites and coloured people. They produced players of the highest caliber that included Siya Kolisi, the first South African captain, and other stars such as Herschel Jantjies, Sbu Nkosi, Cheslin Kolbe, and Bongi Mbonambi. All these players played for the 2019 Springbok team that defeated England by 32-12 in the final of World Cup.