South African Springboks rugger Schalk Burger was recently penalized for attempted eye-gouging several minutes in to a recent match in Johannesburg. Peter de Villiers, the Springboks’ head coach, suggested Burger’s victim, rather than be offended by the incident, “go to the nearest ballet shop [and] get… a nice tutu.”
Burger’s penalty was hardly news for the South African rugby team, named for that country’s springbok gazelle: having recently won the Tri-Nations tournament and upset top-seeded British and Irish clubs, the Springboks have established a strong reputation for aggression and force, even in a sport already known for violence.
The Springboks have been known to play with broken bones and to practice by tackling local animals; they also have a reputation for over-sized forwards, the players responsible for taking possession of the ball in a scrum. Observers point out that the majority of Springboks are Afrikaners, descendants of mostly Dutch settlers, and the Dutch are known for their height. The grueling passage from Holland to South Africa, and subsequent battles with disease and Zulu warriors, would have also weeded out less-than-hardy specimens from the gene pool, leaving only the strongest and toughest to procreate. Local fans also attribute the Springboks’ size to childhood farm work.
South Africa has won rugby’s World Cup, the sport’s most coveted trophy, twice, and soon will compete in this year’s Tri-Nations tournament against strong Australian and New Zealand sides. In their most recent regular season match, the Springboks beat New Zealand’s All Blacks, the most well-known team in rugby.