Keeping abreast of social change and wildlife on the African veld

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 1994, 12:00am

AUGUST 12: Left Hong Kong at 11 pm on CX749. Roger Patterson earns first fine of the tour (Dave Lewis is the fines man) for having bags in two shades of purple. Chris North says: ''How can we be taken seriously as rugby players with bags like this.'' Players unhappy at being dumped in the smoking section for the 13-hour flight to Johannesburg.

August 13: Arrive 6 am at Johannesburg Jan Smuts Airport. Immigration officer, a woman, asks when Hong Kong will play the Springboks. I say the Springboks are too good. She laughs and says: ''I don't think New Zealand will agree.'' Catch connecting flight to Durban. Arrive at Blue Waters Hotel on the beachfront. I'm fined five rand for not wearing identical kit as the others on the flight. Training at 3 pm at King's Park. Everyone overawed by ground.

August 14: Went for an early morning jog with George Simpkin and Steve Quirke (assistant manager). Managed to stay with them for about 45 minutes, but faded badly on home stretch. Walked back. Two training sessions today. All business.

August 15: While running with George (Quirke a non-starter), saw bare-breasted Zulu woman merrily performing her morning ablutions. I say: ''In their society, bare breasts mean nothing.'' George says: ''That's how it should be.'' After training, team go to a barbecue hosted by parents of former Police scrum-half Murray Collins, and John Dingley. Beautiful place on beach. Great time. On return to hotel, Jamie McKee, Robin Bredbury and Will Wild go for a jaccuzi. Their enjoyment cut short when they find a dead rat floating inside. Jamie and Robin actually touched it thinking it was old rag. The skin came off. ''Ugh,'' says Robin.

August 16: Third day of jogging. Feeling good. Bus driver Pete, who comes from the Sotho tribe, looks forlorn. Last night someone had broken into the bus and stolen his jacket. They ignored the bagful of balls kept in the bus. Touch rugby at training. Leave for Empangeni after lunch. 150-kilometre drive. Sam Cooke proves to be a hit with team. Even George joins in for She Was Only 16. Check into Imperial Hotel. Big game - the first one. Everyone seems tense and there is no normal banter in the bus as team leaves for the ground. Hong Kong play in patches. Fare poorly in lineouts. Emerge relieved with win and no injuries. Ashley Bilington wins 1,000 Rand on casino tables in hotel thanks to help from Bredbury, who ''stole'' a pile of his chips and put it on 33. The number came in. A good night for Hong Kong.

August 17: Leave for Hluhluwe Game reserve. 23,000 hectares and home to 40 per cent of the world's rhinoceros population. Stop at Hluhluwe rugby club for training session and also watched the Bledisloe Cup. Rivalry between Kiwis and Aussies on team. Isi Tu'ivai wins 500 rand pot for correctly guessing the total score (36). Lucky, it was his 24th birthday yesterday. Carry on to Game reserve.

George spots rhino tracks from bus. After lunch, the party breaks into smaller lots and we go in open-top jeep for safari. We see rhinos, giraffe, crocodiles, Impala, Nyala, a mother hyena and two cubs. But disappointed at not coming across leopards, lions or elephants. Jeff Piper would not know, however. He falls asleep. Manager Peter Burbidge-King meanwhile clicks at everything that moves. Isi gets a cake at dinner.

August 18: Return to Durban today. Stop at Empangeni for training session. Simpkin concentrates on lineouts, line-kicking and goal-kicking. Areas of worry for Hong Kong. We stop at Zulu village to buy traditional hand-made goods. Stuart Krohn gives his training T-shirt to a small boy. The rest of his friends look on enviously as he pulls on the sweat-stained shirt immediately. Bus driver Pete says it will be his most prized possession. Ninety kilometres from the hotel, Isi decides to run a pool to see who can guess time of arrival. Five rand entry fee. Stephen Kidd wins pot of 120 rand. Hopes of an early night for me dashed when a couple of the local journalists ring and ask if I will join them for a beer. In the line of duty . . . I accept.

August 19: Morning off as game is in the evening. Team are more relaxed as we travel 90 kilometres to Pietermaritzburg. Chilly conditions, but Hong Kong soon warm to the task at hand and play superbly. Injuries to Kidd and Dingley dampen festive air afterwards on trip back home. On the way, bus stops to help a couple whose car has skidded off the road and got stuck in sand. About six players, led by Quirke push the car back onto the road. Shock. Hotel was robbed by six AK47 wielding people last night.