Mike Greenaway: Soweto stadium set to bring special magic to test match

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You can put the rent money on there being no other sports stadium in the world where two Nobel peace prize winners lived within a short taxi ride.

So it is with Johannesburg's Soccer City, which would have cast a distant shadow over the homes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu had it been built in the days when the famous South African politicians were resident in Vilakazi St, the renowned road leading through Soweto, the biggest "blacks-only" suburb in apartheid South Africa.

Soccer City, on the outskirts of Soweto, was built in the mid-80s for precisely the sport indicated by its name.

The thought in those days that the Springboks - regarded by many then as apartheid standard-bearers - would one day play there would have been beyond the realms of the bizarre. But then soccer has been smashing down barriers in South Africa in 2010 thanks to the World Cup.

If it had not been for the world soccer body "confiscating" rugby venues such as Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld earlier this year, the Bulls would not have been forced to look for a temporary home for the Super 14 semifinal, and then final.

The fact that they chose the Orlando Stadium, on the opposite side of Soweto to Soccer City, was as surprising as it was enlightened.

The images of white Bulls fans barbecuing with black township dwellers on the road to Orlando are indelibly etched into South African history.

The uniqueness of the situation created an atmosphere at the semifinal (as the Crusaders will testify) and the Super 14 final that had to be felt to be disbelieved.

For one thing, the noise level at those games was literally off the scale and the vuvuzela, that infernal instrument of aural torture, has been banned from this match (with hardly a complaint) and the All Blacks will instead hear the sound of the 90,000 strong Bokke hordes.

Maybe the vuvuzelas were a better bet.

The South African Rugby Union wanted to build on the good feeling created by the Orlando magic and, in consultation with the Golden Lions provincial union, moved this week's match from Ellis Park to Soccer City.

The Lions certainly had no qualms - they could sell 30,000 more tickets - while Saru believes that the magnitude of the crowd and the uniqueness of the occasion will make up for surrendering the advantage of hosting a test at the Boks' favourite ground (they seldom lose at Ellis Park).

And the stadium itself is exceptional. The playing surface is below ground level - the stands that you see from the outside are in fact the upper reaches of the stadium and this ensures a cauldron-like affect.

There have been 80 previous encounters between the Springboks and the All Blacks and, in terms of location and symbolism, there surely has been nothing quite like the 81st.

- NZ Herald

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