Before Superfan Saturday kicked off in Pretoria at the weekend, Joel Stransky described the coming matches as a “celebration of South African rugby”.
The former Springbok flyhalf could not have been more accurate given that the doubleheader featuring the Sharks and Bulls in one game, and the Lions and the Stormers in the other, was the first rugby action in this country for almost six months.
On March 14, hours after the Sharks had beaten the Stormers in a Super Rugby match in Durban, the pause button had been pressed on the sport as Covid-19 struck and South Africa went into lockdown.
Since then it has been a long road to the resumption of rugby, with the players initially having to keep in shape within the confines of their homes. As the country went through the lockdown stages they have incrementally been able to do more.
A few weeks ago they were allowed to begin contact training, and then came the breakthrough news from SA Rugby that there would be a fortnight of exhibition warm-up games before a domestic competition beginning on October 10.
Superfan Saturday was the icebreaker – to be followed by the Springbok Showdown this Saturday in Cape Town – and what a sigh of relief there was from the rugby-starved public and from the players themselves.
Loftus Versfeld was eerily quiet for the occasion – no fans are permitted in sports stadiums yet – but the action was explosive.
There had been fears that both games would be stop-start affairs because of player rustiness, but both games were fluid and packed with enterprising rugby.
Some spectacular tries were scored – there were 11 alone in the Bulls’ emphatic defeat of the Sharks – and a host of new young players introduced themselves to top-flight rugby.
An interesting development was the successful transition to XVs enjoyed by a handful of Sevens stars. The Blitzboks on show scored some breathtaking tries, and will have given Springbok rugby’s brains trust of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber food for thought.
All in all, the occasion was a resounding success and, indeed, a cause for celebration.