South Africa has become a punching bag for foreign rugby teams

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It was the sudden diagnosis by (ironically) a South African scientist of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 that had the tourists pushing the panic buttons. The haste with which Munster and Cardiff headed for the airports was indecent and when they in fact could not leave because they had positive cases, they reacted as if they had been plunged into purgatory.

Some of the Cardiff players, stuck in that hell on earth called Cape Town, suffered panic attacks and the Wales Rugby Union’s mental wellness department was put on standby to deal with “anxiety and mental health issues” arising from an evacuation of the players that sounded akin to the British army escaping Dunkirk from the advancing Germans in 1940.

It also reminded me of how in 1993, mighty New South Wales called off a Super 10 visit to Durban because they feared “unrest” would put their lives at risk.

A year on from that Omincron outbreak, the Sharks — and especially Kings Park — were all dressed up and had rolled out the red carpet only for the guests to send a sick note.

The annual Sharkfest had been arranged for this plum fixture against the Irish giants and the stadium was covered in all its finery. Some 60 needy store holders had excitedly got their wares ready for a flea market on the outer fields to make some cash courtesy of the Sharks… In fact, with all the canceled entertainment, catering and lost ticket sales, Sharks CEO Ed Coetzee believes they lost R2 million.

Sharks owner, Marco Masotti, took to Twitter from New York to voice his displeasure. “Is this a joke? He asked rhetorically before adding, “How can this happen in professional sport?”

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Well, this is what the URC organizers will be asking themselves because, frankly, it is embarrassing that two matches in this fledgling tournament were called off in one weekend. As Masotti says, it just doesn’t happen in professional sport.

The most infamous case of gastro occurred before the 1995 World Cup final and the All Blacks pulled themselves together and “fronted up” as they say in Kiwi Land.

I have no doubt that Ulster had a gastro epidemic but why did they stay silent on the matter until noon on the day before the game?

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The chairman of the board of the Sharks is Stephen Saad, the owner of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Aspen, and they are based about a kilometer from the Ulster hotel in Umhlanga Rocks. That kind of medical muscle and ammunition could have got some of the Ulster players ready to play and why couldn’t they fly in healthy reinforcements from Belfast?

Where there is a will there is a way and if it was the Sharks who got sick in Belfast they would have flown over their Academy to honor the fixture…

South Africa, I fear, has become something of a punching bag for foreign rugby teams because the unquestionable third-world problems that beset the country can provide convenient excuses…

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