Rugby Union: Barnes bloodied among old volk

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The Independent Online
THE IMAGE of Stuart Barnes being led off Olen Park with blood streaming from a head wound that required four stitches may well have been the most popular among South Africans of any England player on their tour here, writes Steve Bale.

Certainly their rugby has done little to endear them. Neither has Barnes, whose uncomplimentary newspaper piece on the joys of Bloemfontein and its volk has been avidly quoted back here. Barnes - who will publish his autobiography in the autumn - may even aspire to a journalistic career, but in his wildest moments he never anticipated making the front page of the Pretoria News.

Bath's stand-off suggested the atmosphere at Springbok Park, where England played Orange Free State last Wednesday, belonged to the Fourth Reich and at the same time noted the virulence of the language (Afrikaans, of course) with which the Free Staters greeted England's losing team.

Alas for Barnes, this has left him wide open to the charge of preconception that was levelled against critics all through the apartheid years and possibly has even more force now. He is, after all, a long-standing member of the African National Congress's British branch and declined to come to South Africa with England in 1984.

It is true in the Rainbow Nation rugby is still distinctly monocolour and if Barnes thought he was among the real bitterenders in Bloemfontein, he needed yesterday's trip to Potchefstroom to be disabused. Here, and in the towns around, including Eugene Terreblanche's Ventersdorp, Afrikanerdom's heart beats strongest.

'This is our Volkstad,' proclaimed the fly-posters as we drove into Potch and, sure enough, the old South African flag was conspicuous by its presence at Olen Park to the exclusion of the new inverted Y-front. But when a bunch of schoolkids paraded a giant version of the old flag across the pitch at half-time, the applause was not even half-hearted. Instead, they were roundly booed.