It’s not just the high veldt, man-mountain opponents and jet lag that the Waratahs have to contend with during their make-or-break three-match tour of South Africa.
They must also be psyched up to deal with lunatic ground announcers, kamikaze skydivers, deranged bikies, ambushes and local officials doing what they can to make their visit a disaster.
The Waratahs, who need to win all their matches, at Bloemfontein, Durban and Johannesburg, to make the Super 14 finals, leave today for South Africa and the great unknown.
Talk to past NSW team officials and players about South African trips and they’ll burst out laughing – then their heads drop into their hands as the nightmares return.
Atrocity stories abound. Such as in 2004, when the Waratahs played the Bulls in Pretoria and the official ground announcer at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, who clearly had one too many brandy and drys, spent the whole game abusing the visitors.
Speaking in English and Afrikaans, the announcer shouted into the microphone at full-time: "Go back to Australia, you Aussie sheep-rooters."
The sheep-rooters had just been beaten 38-27.
When Mat Rogers was getting treatment for his damaged ankle, the announcer said: "Get up, Mat Rogers … you’ve only got gout."
With five minutes left he said, "Go home, you Aussies … you’re supposed to be the best team in the world. But you’re no good."
While he made derogatory remarks about Waratahs players’ hairstyles and mannerisms, the scene became even more unsavoury when the Bulls’ official mascot walked around the sideline with a sign and a stuffed sheep, which had a large carrot inserted in its rear. The mascot’s sign said: "Aussie men can’t get girls. But they can …"
As if that wasn’t enough, the players discovered on flying back into Sydney that some of their luggage had been stolen at the South African end, including boots, physiotherapy equipment and even copies of their game plans. As they picked up their bags they saw several copies going round and round the baggage carousel. But other copies were missing.
Then there was the time in 1998 when, playing the Stormers in the outpost of Wellington, they were forced to travel well over an hour to the ground on match day, only to be caught up in traffic. They then had to change in a corridor.
On that trip they also played the Bulls in Witbank, and with it came another ambush. Again poor organisation had the Waratahs stuck in the middle of a traffic jam near the ground. This coincided with their bus breaking down.
When they eventually reached the ground they found that the stadium did not even have a medical room.
Thankfully, the Waratahs don’t have to go to Brakpan. This outpost is best known for the classic comment of Reds fullback Chris Latham, who a few days before playing there was asked by a television crew: "What do you know about Brakpan?"
Latham, with a straight face, replied: "I hear he’s a very good player."
Equipment can also suddenly be in short supply. On Phil Waugh’s first trip with the Waratahs to South Africa in 1999, the team’s forwards had lineout practice in the back blocks of Cape Town. When they arrived after a long bus trip from the hotel, there were no footballs.
Improvisation was vital. Suddenly, they were practising their throws using what looked mysteriously like a skull cap filled with towels.
And there are enough Waratahs around to recall the chaos of Kimberley in 2007. Yet again they were forced to complain to SANZAR after parachutists landed on them during the pre-match warm-up. Then came a cavalcade of 10 Harley-Davidsons, with cheergirls riding pillion, which hurtled through the Waratahs – again during their warm-up.
This was followed by the team physiotherapist Stuart Pavely being attacked by the Cheetahs mascot, and the discovery the Waratahs had been supplied with only a few bottles of water, although the temperature had hit 37 degrees.
One consolation is that the Waratahs have not been caught up in the traditional high veldt acclimatisation mumbo-jumbo. Australia’s record on the veldt is dreadful, with the altitude factor constantly being blamed. To overcome this, Australian teams have tried to acclimatise by wearing sunglasses on the flight over, breathing through special straws and even resorting to cleaning their teeth before running onto the field.
This time, the Waratahs are just going to take it as it comes. But that hasn’t made anyone forget the hilarious moments – such as in the mid ’90s when a Waratahs prop, who was close to collapsing on the main Durban beach after a series of sprints, complained to his coach: "Geez, this altitude is killing me."
Go west, young Tah men … with trepidation.