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Thread: 100 years of South African rugby

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    100 years of South African rugby

    100 years of South African rugby: Part one

    7-16 NOVEMBER 2006

    By Chris Thau from the IRB


    It was one George Ogilvie, actually Reverend G. Ogilvie - born in 1826 in Wiltshire, England - who is credited with the feat of introducing football to South Africa, following his appointment as Headmaster of the Diocesan College at Rondenbosch, near Cape Town in 1861.

    However, the game taught and played by the good Reverend – affectionately called “Gog” by his pupils - was the Winchester football variety, a game the good Reverend had learned at his former ‘alma mater’, the well-known Hampshire school. Soon, the young gentlemen of Cape Town joined in and the local press reported a series of football matches between scratch sides conveniently named ‘Town v Suburbs’, or ‘Home v Colonial-born’ etc.

    In around 1875 Rugby football began to be played in the Cape colony, though the first club Hamilton RFC formed that year were playing the Winchester game. The following year two further clubs - the Western Province and Villagers - were formed. The former adopted the Rugby rules, while the latter opted for the Winchester code. Indeed it was Winchester Football that the two leading clubs Hamilton and Villager started playing against each other in 1876, and the history of football in South Africa might have been very different, but for the arrival in Cape Town in 1878 of William Henry Milton, the former England back.

    By the late 1870s, rugby football was very much battling to survive against Winchester Football and the Western Province club had ceased to exist due to lack of support, but the arrival in Cape Town of William H. Milton in 1878 turned the tide in favour of rugby. Milton, who had played for England only a few years earlier (in 1874 and 1875), joined the Villagers club and started playing and preaching the rugby code. By the end of that year the football playing fraternity in Cape Town had all but abandoned the Winchester game in favour of the Rugby football variety. Ten years later, Milton (later Sir William, the administrator of Southern Rhodesia) represented South Africa at cricket, though by the time the first British tour arrived in 1891, he had given up playing rugby.

    In 1883 the most significant development was the formation of the Stellenbosch club in the farming district outside Cape Town - as the rugby got enthusiastically adopted by the young Boers. Soon the Western Province Rugby Football Union was formed and rugby never looked back as it spread like wildfire throughout the country capturing the imagination and the interest of the local youth.

    In 1886 the Griqualand West Rugby Union was formed in Kimberley and soon the game reached Pochefstrom, Klerksdrop, Pretoria and Johannesburg. Pretoria started playing Johannesburg in 1888 and in 1889 the Transvaal Rugby Football Union was formed. The first inter-town match between Kimberley and Cape Town was played in 1884 and the following year the first tournament including teams from Cape Town, Kimberley and Port Elisabeth was held in Grahamstown.

    The birth of the South African RFU

    In 1889 the South African Rugby Football Board was formed and the first nationwide tournament was held at Kimberley, with the Western Province prevailing over the Griqualand West, Eastern Province and Transvaal. In 1890 a proposal to invite England's Rugby Football Union to send a team to tour the colony was enthusiastically adopted and a year later, thanks to the generosity of Sir Cecil Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, the first British tourists arrived in Cape Town.

    It was a strong team, containing mainly Scottish and English players and captained by the legendary Scotland wing three-quarters W.E Maclagan. Managed by England’s Edwin Ash, the 22-strong touring party had a hard core of eight internationals, (four Scots and four English) though two of the tourists, A. Rotherham, and H. Marshall made their international debuts for England soon after the tour was over.

    Maclagan’s men won all 19 matches, though South Africa battled resolutely in the three tests, won by the visitors by very narrow margins. Maclagan presented the gold cup received from Sir Donald Currie, the founder of the Castle Line Shipping Line, to the Kimberley team, in the opinion of the visitors the strongest of the 16 provincial teams they had encountered. Soon afterwards the local Union, Griqualand West, presented the cup to the South African Rugby Board to become the trophy for the inter-provincial tournament held yearly, or every two years. The Currie Cup, became the symbol of supremacy in rugby football in South Africa and its popularity has increased every year since.

    Lessons learned bring rapid rise

    Thanks to the lessons learned from the 1891 tourists, the standard of the game in the country improved dramatically. By the time the second tour arrived in 1896, the South Africans were ready to show their mettle. The tour party, captained by John Hammond of Blackheath who had vice-captained the 1891 tour, contained 10 full Irish and English internationals and at least another half dozen who won their caps immediately afterwards. There were no Scottish and Welsh players though.

    The first South African side to avoid defeat at the hands of the visitors were Western Province, who managed to hold them to a scoreless draw in the third match of the tour and then the South Africa team, in the 21st and last match of the tour, beat the visitors 5-0. This was the first ever defeat suffered by a British team at the hands of South Africa. The date, 5 September 1896, has gone down in the history of South African rugby as their first ever win in an international.

    The Boer war brought all international rugby exchanges to a halt, but as soon as it ended, rugby was back. Soon after the guns had fallen silent, the third British tour, captained by Scotland’s Mark C Morrison, arrived in 1903. For the first time all four Home Unions were represented on the tour party - though Wales had only one player, Newport’s uncapped RT Skirmishire who went up to greatly impress and was the tour’s top scorer, playing all 22 matches. The tour was managed by John Hammond, at his third South African visit.

    The huge improvement in the South African play was obvious as the hosts won the test series for the first time, winning the first one and drawing the second and third tests. The visitors who had only lost one match in the previous 40-odd encounters of the 1891 and 1896 two tours, were found wanting as their tour record read: played 22, won 11, lost eight and drew three. South Africa had arrived as a significant playing nation. Naturally, the South African players started dreaming of taking on the Home Unions, and the sensational 1905 All Black tour in Britain did nothing but fire up their imagination.

    100 years of South African rugby: Part two

    On his return from the 1903 tour, captain Mark Morrison let it be known to the Home Unions just how far South African rugby had come and suggested that a team was invited to tour the British Isles. He received support from his predecessor John Hammond and an invitation was extended to the South Africans to tour in 1906. The invitation was enthusiastically accepted and the South African Rugby Board decided to use the Currie Cup tournament, already established as the leading domestic competition, as a trial to pick the touring side.

    The 28-strong touring party announced on the last day of the tournament - on the screen at the Empire Theatre - was largely dominated by players from the Western Province, which was at the time by far the strongest of the leading South African provincial outfits: No fewer than 14 of the eventual tourists, including captain Paul Roos and vice captain Paddy Carolin, were from the Western Province with six from Transvaal, five from Griqualand West, three from the Border and one - J.G.Hirsh - representing Eastern Province. Stellenbosch and Western Province forward Paul Roos was the only man not to take part in the trial, his presence regarded as a certainty.

    The team assembled in Cape Town at the end of August and after playing two warm up games against two Western Province sides and embarked on the Union-Castle boat ‘Gascon’ for the long trip to Southampton. Aware of the divisions between players, generated by years of war and strife, Roos addressed his men with some memorable words: …’I would like to make absolutely clear at the outset we are not English-speaking or Afrikaans- speaking, but a band of happy South African,” he said.

    His words were poignant indeed: Some members of the team had fought in the Boer War; some had fought on the side of the “rebel” republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State, as well as on the side of the “loyal” Cape and Natal provinces; South Africa was still administered by four separate governments and the divisions in the aftermath of the bloody war were deep and painful.

    “South Africa is disunited about every subject under the sun, but in hearty agreement when supporting our rugby team,” wrote Pretoria News. Prophetic words indeed as the 1906 tour announced to the world the birth of one of the great rugby nations. Ninety years later, similar words were uttered in the streets of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Soweto and Port Elisabeth, as President Nelson Mandela presented the winning Springboks captain Francois Pienaar with the William Webb Ellis trophy.

    The team arrived in Southampton amid great expectation and excitement. The previous year’s All Black tour, was still vivid in people’s memories and both visitors and hosts wondered what was in store. “How would we fare? How would we acquit ourselves under entirely novel circumstances?” wrote Carolin. The team started training straight away after their arrival in London, first on the Merchant Taylor’s School pitch, then eventually at Richmond, where they set up their London base camp. By the time the first match arrived - against Eastern Counties in Northampton - the team became known to the public and press as the Springboks in recognition of the new badge that adorned their green jerseys.

    Until the last test of the1903 series, the South African team, donned either white jerseys, or jerseys in the colours of the Union/club hosting the match and had no badge on their jerseys and, in fact, white is even today South Africa’s alternative kit. However, before the third and final test at Newlands the then South African captain Barry H. Heatlie was asked by an unnamed official to consider changing the habit, with the view of giving South Africa a permanent jersey.

    Heatley, one of the greats of South Africa’s pioneering period, recalled the moment green was adopted as the jersey colour: “At the time I had on hand a supply of dark green jerseys, the colours of the defunct Old Diocesan’s Club. It was decided to wear those jerseys at Newlands, and ever since South African fifteens have been clad in green.”

    Although there is evidence that green jerseys were used by SA athletes attending international competitions before 1900, it is unclear why green remained the Springbok colour. Knowing the idiosyncratic nature of the rugby player, it may well have been the successful outcome of the match and the series - the first ever won by South Africa - which secured the long term future of the green jersey. The same is valid about the Springbok badge. It is said that the first to use a Springbok badge was a South African athletic and cycling team attending events in Britain and USA in 1894. However, suffice to say that when the Springboks arrived in the UK, the newspapers were clearly aware of their colours and emblem.

    Regarding the Springbok badge, the manager of the 1906 tour John.Cecil “Daddy” Carden, observed that it existed when the team left South Africa. In a letter to the author of the history of SA Rugby Ivor Difford, Carden quoted an article published by the London Daily Mail on September 20, 1906, as follows: “The team’s colours will be myrtle green jerseys with gold collar. They would wear dark blue shorts and dark blue stockings and the jersey would have been embroidered in mouse-coloured silk on the left breast a springbok, a small African antelope…”

    The name Springboks, an anglicised version of the Afrikaans word Springbokken, was the brainchild of skipper Roos, vice-captain Carolin and manager Carden, as the latter recalled: “No uniforms or blazers had been provided and we were a motley turn-out at practice at Richmond. That evening, I spoke to Roos and Carolin and pointed out that the witty London Press would invent some funny name for us, if we did not invent one ourselves. We thereupon agreed to call ourselves ‘Springboks’, and to tell pressmen that we desired to be so named… I at once ordered the dark green, gold-edged blazers and still have the first Springbok pocket badge that was made”.

    100 years of South African rugby: Part three

    As Jake White's Springboks' prepare to challenge England at Twickenham, Chris Thau brings us the final of his three-part series celebrating South African rugby's centenary year, in which he recounts the 1906 tour of UK, Ireland and France.

    The Springboks Tour 1906

    About 12 months after the first All Blacks were unveiled, the first Spingboks started out on their triumphant march captained by Paul Roos. The visitors arrived in the British Isles, with the Home Unions still, “shocked and chastened” as a contemporary writer put it, by the sheer brilliance of the New Zealand visitors. The 1906 scene was set for an epic confrontation, the South Africans eager to follow into the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors and the four Home Unions desperately keen to ascertain the supremacy of the Mother Country dented by the 1905 tourists.

    “The main difference between the first Springboks and the first All Blacks,” observed one of the contemporaries, “was that while the former brought with them no strange innovations in strategy and had no individual geniuses of the calibre of Wallace (WJ) and Hunter (J), they played orthodox rugger, which everybody could understand, with the highest skill and determination.” And as another would add, they were also blessed with remarkable pace, power and confidence. The lessons of the three British tours of 1891, 1896 and 1903 had been fully assimilated by South African rugby and the newly baptised Springboks were ready to display their brand of efficient, winning rugby on the big European stage.

    The first match was in Northampton against Eastern Counties and was won easily by the Springboks after an exhibition of running rugby brought them nine tries. In the second match in Leicester, the visitors scored five tries and two drop goals to defeat a powerful Midlands team captained by VH Cartwright, 29-0, centre S.C de Melker giving an exhibition of centre three-quarter play. It was also the match, in which the visitors won the heart of the public, as Carolin recalls.

    “That the crowds were not particularly prejudiced in our favour, was evident in the opening games, particularly at Leicester. There, in fact, certain sections of the crowd were so hostile that Cartwright had play stopped on more than one occasion, and appealed to them to be fair. Then however, came a most scintillating passing movement by our backs and the crowd changed in a flash and rose to its feet and cheered us to the echo. From that moment our march was a triumphal one; we had won the hearts of the British sportsmen, and wherever we went we were received with tremendous enthusiasm.”

    The tour progressed in similar fashion, though the North and Devon in England and Newport and Glamorgan County in Wales gave the visitors a warning of things to come. As Carolin acknowledged in his notes, the Springboks felt lucky to win the match against Glamorganshire, who ‘gave our men a terrific gruelling. Luck was certainly with us in the game, where better defence than we showed has rarely been seen, and in which Marsberg gave a display at fullback which can seldom have been surpassed’.

    The mystery of the ‘loose head’ in the scrum, effectively employed by the Welsh, was solved by Carolin and WA Millar, who, although not among those originally selected, made the tour as a replacement for BP Mosenthal. The Springbok pack practiced the ‘loose head’ in the dining room of the Gloucester Arms Hotel and, as a result, their forwards came to enjoy a wealth of possession, which Kriege, Loubster, Stegman and the rest of the backs manufactured into tries. Matches against universities, won with comparative ease by the visitors, were followed by the first foray into Scotland, against the South in Hawick; the fast Springbok backs prevailed against the hard Scottish pack, winning by 32-5 in what was a good springboard for the weekend test against the Scots, the already the sixteenth match of the tour

    It was time for Scotland, who had led for most of the match against the 1905 All Blacks only to lose 12-7 in the final stages in Inverleith, to do themselves justice. In the Glasgow match, played at the soccer stadium Hampden Park, there was neither the frost nor the fog that affected the game against New Zealand the previous year and, in the event, with the Scottish forwards led by ‘Darkie’ Bedell-Sivright and JC MacCallum dominant, the match was decided by the swift movements of two back divisions which ‘surpassed themselves in speed, skill and deft handling’, as a contemporary observer put it, that made the day.

    KG McLeod, who had made his international debut the previous year as a 17-year old, scored a memorable try following a cross-kick by P Monro. A further try by ABHL Purves following a Scottish forward rush dealt the mortal blow to the gallant Springboks, who were decimated by injury. Already without injured skipper Roos, the South Africans lost Brink, Mare and then Marsberg during the match but battled bravely until the end against the rampant Scots.

    A return to winning ways against North of Scotland, with only four of the players from the test side in action, was followed by the Irish test. With Paul Roos back in the side - and again wearing white to avoid a clash with the Irish jerseys - the Springboks played like men possessed against a strong Irish side led by the legendary Basil Maclear. The Springboks won 12-3 and after a game against Dublin University returned to the UK mainland for the Welsh test.

    As the conquerors of the All Blacks the previous year and welcoming back the great Gwyn Nicholls, Wales were expected to win. But on the day it was the Springboks back division boasting Krige, Loubster, Joubert and Marsberg that dominated to inflict a devastating 11-0 defeat on the incredulous Welsh. The silence at the end of the game in Swansea had ‘almost material consistency’, noted an eye witness. “We were a very happy band in Swansea that night,” noted Carolin.

    The last test against England, a week later at Crystal Palace ended in a 3-3 draw on a heavy, greasy field that naturally deprived the South African backs of their expected supremacy. The Springboks scored in the first half through Millar and England levelled the score in the second half, through Freddy Brooks, a Rhodesian who should probably have played for the South Africans. A few more matches were played, including a second defeat, 17-0 at the hands of Cardiff, before the team went over to Paris for an unofficial test against the French and in a one-sided encounter the Springboks demolished the French XV 55-6, to end a most satisfying tour in style

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    do u think they were more organised then than now?

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    it's hard to believe that they weren't.. certainly couldn't be any worse!

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    It wouldn't be too difficult to be more stable anyway felix

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    Part Two added today

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    Part Three added to the original today

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