If I should write my memoirs one day, the circumstances under which I covered the Springboks’ recent test against France in Paris will certainly feature.
Not just because the 19-10 victory was South Africa’s first in France since 1997, but also because I had to work through the pain barrier.
Somehow that week I managed to contract a middle-ear infection for which the team doctor, Craig Roberts, very kindly gave me an antibiotic on the Friday.
But it hadn’t yet kicked in come Saturday night and I went to the game armed with Paracetamol and Nurofen. Use them in conjunction with one another after eating and the pain will dissipate, I was assured.
Well, it did help to an extent, but not entirely. Firstly, “after eating” was turning out to be a problem because the pain was so bad that I couldn’t chew. This forced me into following what I termed the “Mars Bar Diet”.
If I woke in the middle of the night and desperately needed a painkiller that I couldn’t eat on an empty stomach, I’d gently “chew” on a soft Mars Bar before swallowing a few pills.
And so I fought my way through the problem with a pile of Mars bars in my tiny Montparnasse hotel room.
Of course, the last thing you need under such circumstances is to go out in the freezing cold. But I could just imagine the reaction at the office if I called in sick after the company paid for my plane ticket and accommodation.
As protection for my ears, I wore the ghastly bright orange beanie that I received from promoting a brand of “alcoholic ginger beer” outside Murrayfield the previous week (a fashion crime of note). That, in conjunction with a thermal vest obviously helped, but it was still bloody cold.
“You look tired, Stephen,” Nick Mallett remarked when we bumped into one another at the stadium. Just the day before Peter Jooste had remarked that I looked as if I had a “hangover”.
Both were very sympathetic to my plight once I told them what I was going through.
With the Bokke having done the business, it was off to the post-match press conference. We usually have a mixed zone with some players after that, but my colleagues and I also realised that we were running out time to catch the last train back to Paris.
You see, the Stade de France is actually outside Paris – in St Denis. Miss the last train back and you have problems. Apart from having to find a taxi it’s a ride that will cost you in excess of 100 Euro.
With an undertaking from the Bok management that we’d be able to speak to Heyneke Meyer in the morning for a wrap on the tour, we decided to run for the last train. By then my ear had begun to pain again and the last thing I needed was to make a dash to the train station.
We ended up making it by 10 minutes and squeezed our way in with a few hundred fans. I eventually walked into my hotel room at 3am.
It was with a sense of fear that I packed for a flight to London later that Sunday morning.
It’s not ideal to fly with a middle-ear infection, a doctor friend advised by SMS when I wanted to know whether I was in good enough condition to travel back to London by plane. However, he gave me the assurance that I would be fine on a short flight. “Vasbyt,” he said.
And, he added: “Even if your ear drum bursts, it will come right.”
I bid my hotel room adieu with three Mars bars still lying on the desk.
By then I also had the sniffs, which would become a full-blown cold to run in conjunction with my ear infection as I started a week’s holiday in the UK.
But there was also some rugby. And it was awesome.
– Stephen Nell is the senior rugby writer at Die Burger and author of Springbok Glory: Golden Moments in the Modern Era.