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GOATS, The Bag of Potatoes and Moments That Matter

Updated: 6 days ago

A good mate of mine, years ago, laid out the difference between great sportsmen and legends. Consider the age-old debate about the better player: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, arguably the two biggest names in soccer for the last decade. Ronaldo, in 100 years, will be spoken of in the same breath as David Beckham – an era-defining player, and someone who had a lasting impact on the game.

But Messi? Messi occupies the same hallowed turf reserved for Pele and Maradona. Not only era-defining players but also players who helped their whole team show up for the biggest moment of all: The World Cup. Legends are made on that split-second moment that separates victory from defeat. The Big Match Temperament. The hero shot. Whatever you want to call it.

This weekend (and without getting ahead of ourselves) we saw a few such moments in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. In a weekend widely celebrated as the ultimate celebration of all that is good about the sport, the world’s top team, Ireland, buckled under the big match bogey that has haunted them for decades. Their quest will resume in four years, but their exit from the world’s biggest stage has a lot to do with Kiwi Jordie Barrett’s heroic stopping of a try in the dying minutes. In such moments history turns.

South Africa, on Sunday, defeated the hosts, France. In front of 80,000 crazy fans, with all the odds stacked against them, the Springboks prevailed. They prevailed for a few reasons. They believed they had experience… and they came out on top in the biggest moments. It was glorious to watch, and it could have all been so different if Cheslin Kolbe had not charged down that kick. France, like Ireland, has never gone all the way on this stage. And, like Ireland, their fairytale is delayed again.

Watching our beloved team this weekend was surreal. Two teams squared off. One played a forward-dominated game with lots of kicks trying to force opponent errors. The other side lived off scraps from the opposition but took every single opportunity and won the game against the odds. This script is usually flipped, and we are the first team, with the bloody Kiwis generally doing to us what we did to the French. An alternate universe, indeed. And a testament to the idea that we have as smart a coaching team as we have ever had.

It's kind of nice. I’ve written here before about how, as South Africans, we often have had just a hope-and-bash approach. But our brain trust now is much smarter. A charismatic captain, an approachable and respected coach, and a mostly invisible puppet master. The refs are no longer biased against us, our players have shaken the tag of bullies, and our backline is celebrated as being one of the best in the world. We’ve come a long way, hey.


It reminds me of my late father’s story about the Bag of Potatoes. We failed to think ahead this weekend (and by we, I mean my wife and I, who had flight delays that disrupted our plans, and we didn’t think through contingencies). What we forgot in the crisis we faced, and what the Springbok leaders seem to always remember, is to adjust plans when things change. Plan A is gone. Forget about it. Get busy with Plan B and think through everything that now changes.

I think planning is a muscle. And we need to keep working that muscle. Planning for what is known, planning for what is unknown… and then doing the drills, so that you’re ready on game day.

Yep, we can learn a lot from sport.



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