South Africans are fanatical about sport (in my experience, only Aussies come close in terms of their sports obsession), and among white South Africans, rugby is not a sport, but a religion! Until I moved to South Africa, I couldn't see the logic behind the sports boycott which was imposed on South Africa in the 1980s and 90s ... and once I was here, I realised how profoundly hurt white South Africans were that nobody would play games with them!
So, the time has come to write about one of my consuming passions: rugby! I have been putting off writing this time forever, because I know that it will necessitate an explanation of one of the most complex (and constantly evolving) sets of sporting rules ever developed, but anyway, let's give it a whirl.
Rugby is a fairly recent game, and apparently came into being in 1823 when a schoolboy playing football (soccer) decided to pick up the ball and run with it: the lad in question was William Webb-Ellis (after whom the rugby World Cup trophy is named), and the school he attended was Rugby, hence the name. Actually, subsequent research indicates that this is likely to be an urban legend, but it's a good yarn nonetheless! In fact rugby shares many features in common with Gaelic football in terms of using an oval ball, allowing the ball to be played with hands as well as feet and using an 'H' shaped set of posts, as well as having 15 players per team.
These days, there are two main forms of rugby: rugby union and rugby league (to my mind, 'rugby lite', as it has removed many of the complexities such as scrummaging, and about which I will say no more). Rugby union - which is what I am going to concentrate on - is the more popular game, and also has a shorter '7 a side' tournament format (best known for the annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament, a drinkfest of note).
Certain things about rugby don't make sense. For a start, although the objective is to run and and ground the ball over the 'try' line of the opposition, it's forbidden to throw the ball forward (points can also be scored by kicking between the two upright posts above a cross bar). And we're not even going to begin to discuss why the man mountain wearing the No.2 shirt is habitually referred to as the ‘hooker' ...
Rugby is also unique for its 'scrum' formation, where eight beefy lads from each side but shoulders and heads in an aggressive 'group hug' into whose heart the ball is then placed: on average, the 'pack' from each side weighs in at over 850kg (about 2,000 pounds in old money), so the resultant forces exerted as they push against each other are extraordinary - in fact, this is one of the reasons why neck injuries are so common in rugby, and as a result, scrumming is not allowed in the junior format of the game.
I would venture that you can't come to South Africa in the rugby season (roughly February to September) and not watch a rugby match - preferably live, or, failing that on a TV (most pubs and bars would have big screens). So, why would you want to? Well, for me, the game's greatest attraction is that it's a fast moving and exciting sport which combines immense skill with sheer brute force, and (unlike soccer, where goals are few and far between and draws are fairly common), the teams score often during a match. It is also the ultimate team sport, particularly among the pack of eight players who comprise the scrum, an entity which almost has a life of its own. And although rugby is an incredibly physical sport, it's a surprisingly disciplined game in which the ref's word is regarded as gospel and no dissent is tolerated. Lastly, rugby is a game where the violence is solely confined to the pitch, and the crowd usually contains a heartwarmingly high proportion of families!
In short, attending a rugby match during your time in South Africa is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon - even if you have little understanding of the rules - as the atmosphere is very congenial and the ticket prices are very reasonable by international standards. Tourists are most likely to be tempted to attend matches at Coca Cola (formerly Ellis) Park in Johannesburg, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, Newlands in Cape Town and at ABSA stadium (formerly Kings Park) in Durban - colloquially known as the 'Sherk Tank' because it is the home ground of the Natal Sharks (my favourite South African team). Just be mindful that for big matches, tickets are sold out well in advance, so check the website for availability.
In terms of 'who's who' in the rugby universe, the Big Five are the All Blacks (New Zealand), the Springboks (South Africa), the Wallabies (Australia), France and England. The Welsh have a phenomenal rugby tradition and dominated international ('test') rugby in the 1970s - but have never again reached the same heady heights - and the Irish and Scots also have creditable teams. The Southern Hemisphere teams compete in the Tri Nations (expanding in 2012 to include Argentina), whereas the major European teams (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy) battle it out for honours in the Six Nations tournament. Then there are the unexpected outliers: the Namibians, Romanians, various Pacific island teams (Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are excellent teams, especially in the 7 a side format) and even the Georgians!
As a general rule of thumb - and although it pains me to admit it - the New Zealanders are usually the best team in the world at any given point in time, and consequently the most hated (rugby fans will often tell you that they support their home team, followed by any team that's playing the All Blacks!).
Although rugby is usually associated with strapping white Afrikaaner farmboys the size of an ox, it may come as a surprise to learn there is in fact a long and proud rugby playing tradition in the Coloured community, particularly in the Griqualand region of the Northern Cape. There are an increasing number of black players, and in terms of racial transformation, rugby has made much bigger strides than, for example, cricket.
If you'd like an insight into how significant rugby is to the South African psyche, watch the excellent movie 'Invictus' for a perspective on how the canny Mandela used the 1995 World Cup in South Africa (which, of course, we won!) to play a key role in his nationbuilding initiative during the early days of democracy - see photo above.
Durban (along with Pietermaritzburg) co-hosts the world's largest - and arguably greatest - ultramarathon events - the legendary Comrades marathon.
I first witnessed Comrades a couple of days after I arrived in South Africa in 1987, and my considered (armchair) opinion at the time was that this was the greatest expression of mass national lunacy that I had ever witnessed. Over 20 years on, my opinion remains unchanged, but I am hooked, and, like most South Africans, spend most of the day watching the drama unfold! By the end of the race, I have bawled my eyes out at the human tragedy, and by the time that the official fires the gun to indicate the end of the 12 hour period (when they close the finish line), I am dehydrated! Firing the gun to signal the end of the race must surely be one of the worst jobs in the world, and so traumatic that the official actually turns his back to the desperate runners scrambling towards the line on hands and knees. This is heartrending stuff that puts ''reality TV' to shame!
Comrades was first run in 1921 by 34 runners: by contrast, the race in 2000 (the 75th race), attracted 23, 961 entrants. Competitors have 12 hours to finish the 89km course (yes, you read right!) between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and if they're mad enough to complete repeat this act of extreme self abuse ten times, they are awarded a coveted green number. Doesn't seem much of an incentive to run 900km, but that's runners for you ...
Comrades now takes place on 16 June (the Children's Day public holiday) every year and alternates between an 'up' run (from Durban) and a 'down' run (from Maritzburg) each year. There is about a 700m height difference between start and finish, which is exacerbated by the fact that the route winds through the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which adds even more 'up and down' to the course. Counterintuitively, the 'down' run is considered by most to be harder, because of the pounding your knees get (as opposed to the rest of your body, which is presumably equally abused whatever direction you run it!)
Every January, huge numbers of ordinarily sane people abandon all semblance of common sense and start training for Comrades - clearly this is a New Year's resolution, fuelled no doubt by overindulgence over the festive season. They pound the pavements at ungodly hours of the morning, run qualifying marathons over weekends and effectively don't see their partners or families for six months (unless they too are mad enough to run, in which case they see a great deal of each other!). In literally every company, at least one person would run the race - many larger companies actually sponsor teams and mine gave one of our employees a cash bonus this year for running a mindbogglingly good time - and it adds to the nation's sense of involvement in the race to know that your colleagues are participating.
Every year, the local field is joined by some intrepid foreigners. Some of these are professional athletes in pursuit of the substantial winner's prizes (a pair of Russian twins have been taking it in turns to win the women's race for years), but most are ordinary runners looking to be part of this extraordinary phenomenon. Should you be lunatic enough to consider this, then consult the website below for details on how to enter (including the qualifying requirements).
If you are sane enough to have no intention of running Comrades, might I respectfully suggest that you avoid visiting Durban or Maritzburg at this time, as flights and accommodation are fully booked, and the law of 'supply and demand' kicks in, which results in prices going through the roof!
Otherwise, if you're in KwaZulu Natal over this period, participate in the festive atmosphere: I wouldn't recommend going to the stadium where the race finishes (which is crowded with relatives waiting to collect the mortal remains of their loved ones as they collapse across the finish line), but otherwise you have 89km of route from which to pick your vantage point! Do as the locals do, and bring a deckchair, a coolbox and some refreshments (braais and beer are almost obligatory) and cheer supportively as the masses stumble past! My only warning is that by the end of 12 hours, you'll be awfully sick of the theme tune from "Chariots of Fire"!
Details on the public transport arrangements for the World Cup stadia continue to be issued in drips and drabs. The most comprehensive and user-friendly useful summary I've seen was from Prega Govender in this morrning's Sunday Times - follow this link:
Please note that private vehicles (including taxis) will NOT be allowed close to the stadia, so if you are planning to travel to the stadia in your own or someone else's vehicle, be prepared for a long walk (and potentially problems finding your taxi pick up after the game).
It seems like it will be a long journey to the stadia, but then with excitement at fever pitch and national pride running high, this is all part of the experience!
Let the games begin!
MOSES MABHIDA, DURBAN
Park and Ride: The three nodes are the Gateway, Pavilion shopping centre and Galleria shopping centres, a free bus will take fans to the Centrum site.
Main transport hub: Centrum, adjacent to the Workshop shopping centre. From here fans will be able to walk to the stadium. Fans requiring assistance will be taken via shuttle to the outer security cordon of the stadium at the intersection of Masabalala Yengwa Avenue and Sandile Thusi Road.
Main railway lines from which fans can travel to stadium and city: Umlazi, INK (Inanda, KwaMashu and Ntuzuma), Chatsworth, Queensburgh/Old Line Suburbs and the Amanzimtoti line.
Park and Ride available at these stations: Tongaat Central, Havenside, Bayview, Westcliff, Chatsglen, KwaMnyandu, KwaMashu, Phoenix, Amanzimtoti, Doonside, Bellair, Winkelspruit and Escombe.
For those who don't have tickets to some or all of the games, today's Sunday Times also provides the following update on 'fan fests' (free viewing zones) around the company. Note that in addition to these 'official fan fests', there will also be other fan zones such as the MTN fan zones, for which entrance will be charged (and where facilities such as parking and food/drink outlets will be more formalised)
Follow this link: http://www.google.co.za/search?hl=en&q=No+tickets%3F+No+problem+at+free+fan+fests+%2B+Karen+van+Rooyen&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=
"More than 260000 soccer enthusiasts who cannot attend World Cup games need not worry - they will be accommodated at 10 official "fan fests" around the country. Entrance to these facilities will be free, and fans are encouraged to come early to enjoy the entertainment.
The venues will operate on match days.
Durban is hosting the only beach fan fest for 25000 enthusiasts. It will be open from 11.30am to 11pm from June 11-21, from 2pm to midnight from June 22-29 and for the quarter-final, and from 5pm to midnight for the semi-final and final. Three park-and-ride facilities will operate daily."
Although casual visitors cannot actually join the Natal Sharks when they play rugby, it would be a shame to miss this vital piece of Durbs culture. South Africans take their rugby seriously -- did anyone see "Invictus"? From July through October, the Sharks take on the fourteen other teams who compete in the Currie Cup. (In fact, they won it in 2010.) In addition, there are a variety of pre-professional leagues for younger players who also compete at "The Shark Tank" as the stadium is known.
Tickets for the upcoming Vodacom Test Match in August between South Africa and Australia run R450 each.
(work in progress)
For those who read the title and thought that this was going to help you pick up local lovelies, you're going to be sadly disappointed, as probably the only way that you're going to score with a maiden (or any other woman) at Kings Park cricket ground is with a cricket bat!
Kings Park is located close to the coast just north of the CBD and is the venue for provincial and 'test'(international) cricket matches played in Durban.
Cricket seems to be an enormous source of bewilderment for those who are not priveleged to hail from non-cricket playing nations, so let me try to explain the basics. Cricket comes in many forms, from the three, four and five day games (which, believe it or not, often end in a draw), to the more popular one day format (where you are at least guaranteed a result after a mere day): call me a purist, but I personally draw the line at the 20 over aside Twenty20 format, which I consider to be little more than 'hit and giggle'. Cricket has a fiendishly complex set of rules that make even rugby seem easily comprehensible: try explaining the Duckworth-Lewis method of determining a result for a match interrupted by rain to a novice or - even more challenging - try justifying D-L to an irate fan whose team have just falled foul of this method!
It's fair to say that cricket is definitely an acquired taste, after which it becomes highly addictive! Its popularity is almost exclusively restricted to Commonwealth nations (although the Irish and Dutch are cricketing minnows who have put up a creditable showing in the recent World Cup) - the heavyweight nations being Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India (the world champions at the time of writing), Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England. Indeed, I have a pet theory that a thirsty traveller can only rely on getting a decent cup of tea in countries who play cricket at a test (international) level!
Cricket is, above all, a game of strategy and once you get your head around the rules, it is utterly enthralling ... the downside is that this takes the average person about a decade! The good news is that you don't have to understand cricket to enjoy it, and attending a cricket game is a deeply relaxing experience, especially if it's one of the three, four or five day games. Unlike other more high energy, limited duration sports, frenetic action in cricket comes in short bursts (if at all) which allows you to get on with the serious business of sitting outdoors amid pleasant surroundings and in good company, keeping half an eye on the 'action' whilst chatting to your mates over a few beers.
A note for families: like rugby, cricket is a family game, and one of the most heartening aspects of attending a cricket match is to see stands full of fathers and sons (and often even mothers and daughters). Crowd violence at a cricket match is unheard of, so if the weather is nice, this is a laid back, affordable and very South African way to while away a lazy day. I think that Durbs is a particuarly interesting place to attend a live cricket match because of the large Indian population, who are unashamed cricket fanatics - just don't automatically assume that they will be supporting the home team if you are lucky enough to attend a test match played against a touring Indian team! Also bear in mind that cricket is a long game and that even the covered stands are not in the shade all day, so go equipped with a hat and plenty of sunblock!
P.S. 'To bowl a maiden over' is cricket parlance for the highly desirable achievement of bowling an 'over' - six consecutive balls - from which your opposition does not manage to score a single run. Basking in the limelight of your achievement and scoring with the local maidens thereafter is entirely optional ...
Ice Skating is fun and a good team building sport. Kids would love it!!! It is not the best ice rink, but it is ok. The people are friendly and that's what makes it even more fun. It is about half the size of an olimpic ice rink.
Equipment: Dress warmly, after all, it is an ice rink. If you haven't got your own skates, you can hire a pair from the rink.
Durban is the home to 800,000 people of Indian descent and, as a result, many parts of the city, as well as the local cuisine, have a real sub-continental feel to them.
Equipment: BBC have excelled in their venues guide,
they also give more than the fun Cricket maniac their food, also.....
.....Make sure you try the bunny chow when you're in town - a local delicacy of a hollowed-out loaf filled with curry.
Every year in June, Durban and Pietermaritzburg host the world famous Comrades marathon.
This is an ultra marathon, and is a mere 90 kilometers in distance!!!!
The main road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg is a hive of activity on race day, as millions of spectators line the streets to encourage the runners on. There are various stations where people set up barbeques, entertainment venues, beer gardens and various other things.
There is always a great atmosphere for the race and the locals are always out in force to give the runners some vocal encouragement.
Equipment: Runners - You would probably find a pair of running shoes useful (ha!ha!), loads of energy and a some where for a good massage afterwards!
Spectators - Deck Chair, Cooler Box with Beers and Wine, a Barbeque and loads of meat and salad ........... this how I take part in the marathon!!!
Well Durban has great beaches and and a beautiful coastline!
A great excursion or activity to possibly do during stay is to go on a Sea Kyacking Safari, where you are sure to enjoy some unique views of Durban!!
Now you can explore in safe, comfortable sit-on-top kayaks, which require almost no balance or skill! It is the ideal craft for both the explorer who wishes to challenge the water, and the casual who simply wishes to all but float out in a calm bay and see the mountain from another perspective.
You can even sit and paint or sketch in your kayak!!!
"Sea Kayaking" instructors are available to assist those who require a boost in their proficiency and to ensure that your safety is maintained throughout your tour of choice.
Equipment: All equipment can be hired from the tour organisers.
Test match cricket at Durban is great, except for the 9.30 start - it should be sooner because in the afternoon the humidity brings the clouds rolling down to the coast and the light fades. This robbed England of victory with just two wickets to take.
Equipment: sun hat and cream - most of Kingsmead is uncovered and it is very hot.
16 June 2005,The Comrades Marathon is arguably the greatest ultra marathon in the world. Athletes come from all walks of life across the universe to combine muscle and mental strength to conquer 90 kilometres between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The Comrades Marathon attracts thousands of runners and tens of thousands of television viewers every year.
Equipment: Running Shoe`s , Jogging Shorts and Top.
With Aqua Planet who is the resident dive centre to the uShaka Marine World you can arrange to dive in the Ocean Tank of the Marine World.
And that is what you can see: Guitar Sharks, Spotted, Giant, Eagle, and Marblel Rays, Queen and Gar Fish, Daga Salmon, Prodigal Son, and Pompano Fish.
The sharks and rays are up to 2.5-3metres in length and weigh up to 250kg - ranging in size from adorable to breathtakingly huge!
Equipment: You can hire your equipment in the dive centre of bring your own.
About an hours drive south of Durban is the town of Scottburgh. From here launches are made to the Aliwal Shoal a spectacular reef some 5 km off the coast.
Quo Vadis Dive Charters are my preferred operator and I have taken many dives with them to the shoal. They are next door to the Cutty Sark Hotel and run a very professional operation. Launching from the beach just outside the dive centre you will be taken some 5 km off the coast to dive this spectacular reef.
Make sure to book - since they are always very busy - especially during weekends and public holidays.
Equipment: You can hire all your equipment here, and also refill your cylinders.
South Africa is a sport fanatic nation – and the stadiums that are available today in the country including in Durban are some of the best in the world. The ABSA Stadium is the normal rugby ground, but also home to soccer games and athletic functions