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A letter from our friend David Berman in New York. David founded “Chess for Change” in South Afirca (A programme teaching four thousand underpriviliged kids to play Chess each week) and the “author” of the “rugger bugger letters”

Dear Rugger Buggers,

Last week in NYC there was a big charity dinner arranged and Pienaar was the guest speaker. I had just seen the movie the night before at the NYC Premier so I asked Pienaar questions in addition to his awesome talk. My short review of the film follows this.

It was a truly outstanding evening and the event was a sell-out, including 20 of us rugger buggers at one big table.

Pienaar is a magnificent speaker and leader who is now cemented into history through this film. Beneficiaries of this dinner were kids in SA – mainly Pienaar’s MAD charity, but also Chess for Change, the Section 501 (C)(3) charity I founded four years ago, where we are now teaching chess to over 4,000 kids a week in the Cape area primarily. Chess is proven to make kids smarter and is a very cost effective way to help children.

Pienaar is a brilliant speaker and captivated us all with his honesty, humor, laid back demeanor, and stories, but before he spoke, there was a very successful live auction with a signed rugby jersey going for a whopping $14,000, a Madiba first edition signed book going for $13,500, and a bronze limited edition statue of Pienaar and Madiba going for $22,000, just to mention a few of the items. Guests were unusually generous. Clearly New Yorkers are feeling better than they did a year ago!

Permit me to share some of what we learned:

Pienaar met with Matt Damon as Damon wanted to get a sense of the role, and “to get into my head”. Similarly, Morgan Freeman met with Mandela. Damon’s words to Pienaar when they first met were “Don’t worry…I am much bigger on the screen!” Its quite funny because in truth Damon is not very big, most especially for a loose forward! Pienaar was however very impressed with Damon’s hard work ethic and trained with him in the gym where Matt worked on his upper body, which they focused on in the movie, and did a good job. Pienaar said that as a rugby player he has brute legs but that this was a problem for Damon, and that they laughed about how he would have to wear a few pairs of socks, and take the focus away from the legs, and that he’d wear tighter shorts to make him look bigger. Pienaar spoke very complimentary of Damon saying he was a real down to earth guy, which I concur with having spent a half hour talking to Damon myself, and that they hugged each other at one point. Pienaar said “I could not ask for a better actor to play me”.

Of Clint Eastwood, Pienaar said Clint doesn’t play dirty harry, “he IS dirty harry”:.. On the set there is “NO faffing and its all very orderly” .. People call him Mr. Eastwood…

A few other issues were discussed:
1. Accent. Very good. Pienaar tried to convince the movie guys not to use that slow stupid SA accent one often hears in movies that makes them sound stupid, but rather to speak faster like Pienaar does. So they paid closer attention to the speed too.
2. The scene in the prison cell happened exactly like that and when Pienaar saw it, it made him cry.
3. Not necessarily in movie but Pienaar saw what happened in six weeks in SA and he saw SA change and the whole vibe changed, and he really did say he was playing for 43 Million not 60,000 fans.
4. Madiba never gave him a poem.
5. The poem Pienaar used was another which he personally loved, about a man in the arena by Theodore Roosevelt… about “If he loses …” (my baby was named Theodore a few weeks ago, so that was good to hear)
6. Madiba came to locker room before the game. It was a great moment.
7. Players in the movie resisted singing the anthem but in reality everyone learned it and no one resisted; in fact, a coach was even hired for this. The players weren’t as “bad” as they were made out to be in Hollywood style
8. While Matt Damon comes across as a quiet leader, leading by example as Mandela did, Pienaar was hardly this passive. I did think this was odd in the movie, didn’t you? When the team in the movie didn’t want to practice the anthem and Damon walked away, Pienaar said that would never have happened as he would’ve just made them. He spoke to the boys a lot more before the game than Damon did and he took no kuck!
9. Hollywood tried to make it more movie-friendly – note the plane heading for the stadium in 9/11 style only to say “Good Luck Bocke” as it did in real life – but Pienaar insisted that the players do not come across as racist, and thy didn’t. They came across simply as resistant to change, as did many blacks in the movie.
10. Pienaar drizzed a lot throughout the film as he felt it was very moving most especially as it captured the emotions of the day. He felt it was a great honor.

When I later asked Pienaar if he was disappointed with the Haka as I was, and the rugby in general, as well as the rugby players who didn’t seem tough enough, he said he felt that an opportunity was missed in that they could have used real players BUT importantly he added that to rugby connoiseurs like ourselves, it may be disappointing, but from a normal viewer’s perspective it was done very well. To this end we must concur as we have only had rave reviews, especially from my biggest critic, my mother-in-law, who now understands me and my love for rugby a little better, as well as my desire to help kids in SA through chess!

From a personal perspective, and surely for all you rugger buggers in America, it is truly wonderful for the world to see what a great game rugby is, albeit about such a bunch of thugs as is often made out… though we love the phrase that its the smart man’s sport – and its also lovely to have a movie about our home country in all its glory.

I hope you found this helpful and interesting, as well as my review below.


PS Enjoy the reports and comments that follow!


Below is my review of the film as written to Pienaar just after the film (I was at a premier – it wasn’t out yet). Love to hear your thoughts as always. Enjoy, DB


Francois, hope you had a good day in NYC and that your wife and boys are having a blast. Good touching base today. You can be very proud. You are immortalized. You asked I should email my thoughts to you, so here we go… film was great. The “PEE FACTOR was 9/10 for me (see definition later). They def did not make your teammates out to be racists as I had heard. Rather everyone was made out to be resistant to change – both whites and blacks. In classic Clint Eastwood style, not much talking in film. No real relationships. Superficial. Kind of weird in that way. . But great to see feelings of people changing thanks to rugby game.. Best game on planet…Not overly impressed with Morgan Freeman who I loved in Shawshank Redemption; his speeches did not move me in the slightest. Politically correct however to nominate him for an Oscar. We’ll see. Matt Damon as Pienaar OK I suppose but could’ve heard more speeches from him to his players and guidance. Too much “leading by example” and hardly any motivational and leadership talks. All Black HAKA WAR CRY scene lousy and I had expected so much here… would’ve been nice for the world to see the real intensity of this .. and rugby scenes exciting but too close up and full of grunts.. as Matt Damon told me in Cape Town, it wasn’t hard to do the rugby acting as the cameras did the tricks and made him look good, as he said, which is so true – but Lomu scenes are absolutely outstanding.. only real rugby looking player – a real Somoan! Should’ve used real rugby players as actors…. Never got a team spirit feeling either, until right at end. One feels the movie should’ve gone back and forward between real scenes from the game and the acting. Feel they could’ve done a lot more with the movie – great opportunity – but loved the music and feel good at end – sho shaloza amazing- oh My Captain – and of course being S African made it unusually good.


Posted on January 26, 2010

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