Why Newlands Stadium's magnetism was hard for Breyton Paulse to resist
Even for a native of the far away Koue Bokkeveld‚ Newlands Stadium's magnetism was hard to resist.
Breyton Paulse had no first-hand imagery of the majesty of the stadium when he started running rings about defences for Maties.
“It is a very special ground. The first match I played there was for Maties against Ikeys‚” he said about the always hyped inter-varsity. “It was a huge moment for me because you would have heard about this wonderful stadium and then you get to play there. When we arrived there I could feel and sense it‚” recalled Paulse.
The sprightly wing‚ who represented SA between 1999 and 2007‚ played in 64 Tests and five of them were at Newlands. The only defeat in those five Tests came in 2001 when the All Blacks triumphed 12-3 in an eminently drab affair.
“Playing for the Springboks against the All Blacks was one helluva occasion‚” said Paulse.
“It was huge and you just felt part of something special because of everything and the hype about the game is always heightened. It was also unique in that the All Blacks would have very good support at that stadium‚ almost as much as the Springboks.”
Paulse said he never copped any abuse while playing against the All Blacks. Perhaps he had immunity by virtue of being a local favourite.
“Nah‚ not really. The guys would come up to me and say, 'No Breytie, you're OK‚ but those others guys...'
“I think it also helped that I was a Western Province player and there was always a lot of respect.”
Of course the stadium‚ which hosted its last competitive match last month before Western Province and the Stormers start playing their games at Cape Town Stadium‚ felt more like home when Paulse played his provincial matches.
“Playing in the Currie Cup finals was also special‚” said Paulse.
In the 2001 final, Western Province fell behind against the Sharks. In one move there was the rare sight of John Smit lighting the afterburners as he surged to the line with Paulse vainly trying to put in a last-gasp tackle.
Later Deon Kayser ran over Paulse in the lead-up to Gaffie du Toit's try. With the Sharks 17-9 up it was Paulse's moment of inspiration that dragged Western Province back into the clash.
He followed up a kick and caught Kayser in possession‚ throwing him to the ground before Western Province earned a turnover that led to a try for Chris Rossouw amid bedlam in the lower tier of the Danie Craven Pavilion.
“We fell behind but we kept believing and came back to win that game and it was amazing‚” said Paulse of the hosts' 29-24 win.
Ultimately, though, stadiums are about the people who frequent them. In that regard Newlands stood tall‚ as it does in its suburban surrounds. Even the less stellar events were an occasion.
“The atmosphere was always great‚” enthused Paulse. “That was the thing about Newlands that made it so special. You could not get that vibe anywhere else. Even when Western Province were playing teams like the Valke or the Griffons, you'd still get that atmosphere.”
He agreed that it will be very difficult to recreate that atmosphere at Cape Town Stadium.
“That is going to be tough. I think it will take years. People will also need to feel at home first. It's like moving into a new house.
“It is very sad‚” he said about the move. “There are people who have been long-time employees there. Now operations move elsewhere and you don't know what's going to happen. When a stadium closes like this, it is almost like a death in the family.”