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The Springbok Experience Rugby Museum at the V&A Waterfront
A powerful tribute to South Africa’s favourite sport
South Africa without rugby would be like Coca-Cola without the fizz – flat, lacking and a little lifeless. We’re a nation that lives and breathes the sport as if it was a religion, and just like any other world faith, it’s deserving of a house of worship.
In Cape Town, this ‘shrine’ is The Springbok Experience, a world-class, double-storey rugby museum that pays homage to the fervour that surrounds the game and embodies that sense of pride that anyone who’s ever donned green and gold and caught a match with mates, beer in one hand and biltong in the other, will know so well.
“Rugby is an immensely emotive, passionate subject for South Africans,” says Andy Colquhoun, general manager of corporate affairs at the South African Rugby Union (SARU), explaining the thinking behind the visitor attraction, which sits in the Portswood House building at the popular V&A Waterfront. “We’re proud of our sport and our heritage, so we wanted to take that out to the public and let people get close to it.”
That’s one of the museum’s main goals, after all: to give locals the chance to get intimate with the game they love so much and to offer tourists a tangible, first-hand experience of Mzansi’s most adored cultural cornerstone, so that they don’t just hear about its magic, but feel it too.
And the beautiful space does this so well by sucking visitors in right from the get-go. As you enter through the Springbok tunnel, moving shadows of players walking beside you, you’re plunged head first into the experience. A crowd cheers overhead, a giant screen shows rugga action before you, a flagship Springbok store selling everything from hoodies to water bottles sits to your right and a state-of-the-art Springbok Trials zone beckons you to come try out a string of Wii-like kicking, passing, fitness and reaction tests to your left (this virtual play place is a dreamland for kids).
But it’s upstairs, where the advanced audio-visual exhibit rests, that holds the real pull.
“Our big goal was to have wild excitement and movement and colour, not something static,” explains Andy. “It’s much more than just display cases and text; it’s immersive.”
In place of boring information boards is a chronological series of interactive digital displays that use sound, music, motion and touch-screen technology to tell the rich story of the evolution of rugby from the 1860s to current times. There’s an animated painting depicting the first days of play in Rondebosch, a moving map that shows how the sport spread across South Africa, an installation that uses light to detail how the Springbok badge has changed over time, footage of matches being played during World War II, life-size sculptures of prominent rugga figures like Paul Roos and even a wall where visitors can compare their own height to that of our current team’s players.
Not to mention, the museum is peppered with fascinating artefacts presented in a contemporary way – think the boots worn by Joel Stransky when he won us the ’95 Rugby World Cup with that famous drop goal, a flag signed by the full squad during their 1937 tour of New Zealand, Francois Pienaar’s iconic No. 6 jersey, the oldest black rugby trophy and a police baton used to protect the team from protestors during Apartheid days.
Speaking of which, The Springbok Experience does a brilliant job of uncovering the darker, lesser-known aspects of the game’s past and showing how rugby has been used as a force of both division and reconciliation throughout history. The exhibit effectively weaves together the traditional account of white rugby with the often ignored tale of the development of black and coloured rugby before unity in 1992. So, even those who think they’re the ultimate fan are likely to learn about a side to the game they never knew existed.
Similarly, it quickly becomes clear that the Waterfront-based spot is about more than just a sport. Because, in Andy’s words, “rugby’s story is South Africa’s story”, the audio-visual display also sheds light on our country’s complex past and political journey through the lens of the game. And this broader tale is wrapped up beautifully in a final seven-minute movie that screens in an on-site cinema and brings the whole tour to a very powerful close.
As Andy summarises, “the museum helps visitors to put their finger on the pulse of what makes South Africa’s heart beat.” In other words, you can’t get much closer to the core of this nation than with a visit to this phenomenal rugga-focussed shrine.
How to get there: The museum sits on the corner of Dock and Portswood roads just above the Ulundi parking garage and almost directly opposite Mitchell’s brewery at the V&A Waterfront. It’s best to park in this garage, exit through the front and then walk up the stairs to your right (look for signs).
Tip: Watch out for the launch of a sculpture garden featuring the bronze-cast handprints of over 40 former national Springbok captains. The exhibit is meant to be erected on Heritage Day in September 2014 and aims to symbolise the union of the sport’s divided histories and heroes.
The Bill: Because rugby is often seen as an elitist sport, the museum team wanted to make it accessible to all by keeping prices low. If purchasing tickets from the venue, adults pay R75/p, students, scholars and pensioners get in for R50/p and pre-schoolers enter for free.
By Dayle Kavonic
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