On Not Playing Rugby

Matric. Rugby season. I’m not playing. Old pipe-smoking, Andy Capp cap-wearing, grog-loving, moustachioed Stollie Beukes came up to me at school and asked straight-forwardly and politely, no weaseling, no guilt-suggesting. That’s him ‘playing goalie’ above.

“Ons kort a paar manne in die derdespan. Sal jy vir ons speel?”

“Ja, sekerlik,” I said, “Sal ek oefenings moet bywoon?” That would have ended it. I have an aversion to training in sport. Makes you sweaty. If you enjoy a sport, do the sport. Training? Ha!

“Nee, net op Saterdag,” he said.

Cool. So I got a coupla games on the President Brand Park B field; the field with the wooden poles on part of the cricket pitch. You can see the posts behind Stollie in the pic.

Being the mighty third (also last) team, we played early – before the first team, so we could all go and support them in our smelly kit. If it was in the morning there could be frost in the shade of those trees. The game would attract only a handful of the most die-hard spectators.

Lekker.

Then at the end of the season I played in the last game, the traditional matrics vs the rest of school. I don’t know who won? I dislocated my collar bone near the end and went off to see GP Mike van Niekerk, where he glanced at it, told me to wear a sling – “Your mother will know how to do it” – and then spent his time trying to change my future career. And he almost did.

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The next year I played a season of American football; Two years later I played rugger again. In Joburg for Wanderers Club.

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“Ons kort a paar manne in die derdespan. Sal jy vir ons speel?”– We need some superb and exciting talent in the Mighty Thirds. Will you sign up?

“Ja, sekerlik,” “Sal ek oefenings moet bywoon?” – Sure. I’m naturally fit, (right!) so I’m ready to play!

“Nee, net op Saterdag”– play the games only, no need to attend practice; a sign of desperation

Rugby Heroes – or ‘Delusion’

Ode to a Tighthead Prop – Author unknown (but probly some Kiwi). The poem could also be called ‘Delusions of Grandeur.’

It was midway through the season
we were just outside the four
and although I know we won it
I can’t recall the score.

But there’s one thing I remember
and to me it says a lot
about the men who front the scrum –
the men we call “the props”.

We won a lineout near half way
the backs went on a run
the flankers quickly ripped the ball
and second phase was won.

Another back then crashed it up
and drove towards the line
another maul was duly set
to attack it one more time.

The forwards pushed and rolled that maul
They set the ball up to a tee
the last man in played tight head prop
and wore the number “3”

The ball was pushed into his hands
he held it like a beer
then simply dropped to score the try –
his first in 15 years.

Then later, once the game was done
he sat amidst his team
he led the song and called himself
the try scoring machine.

But it wasn’t till the night wore on
that the truth was finally told
just two beers in, he’d scored the try
and also kicked the goal.

At 6 o’clock the try was scored
by barging through their pack
he carried two men as he scored
while stepping ’round a back.

By seven he’d run twenty yards
out-sprinting their quick men
then beat the last line of defence
with a “Jonah Lomu” fend.

By eight he’d run from near half way
and thrown a cut out pass
then looped around and run again
no-one was in his class.

By nine he’d run from end to end
his teammates stood in awe
he chipped and caught it on the full
then swan dived as he scored.

By ten he’d drunk a dozen beers
but still his eyes did glisten
as he told the story of “that try”
to anyone who’d listen.

His chest filled up, as he spoke,
his voice was filled with pride
he felt for sure he would be named
the captain of that side.

By nights end he was by himself
still talking on his own
the club was shut, the lights were out
his mates had all gone home.

And that’s why I love my front row –
they simply never stop
and why I always lend an ear

when a try’s scored by a prop.

see: http://wesclark.com/rrr/

This try was much like that mighty prop Hubby Hulbert’s try in our epic match against the InjunKnees. Do you recall? ca. 1975

Hubby found himself lying down for a brief rest on the ground under a mass of other bumsniffers when an oval object appeared next to him and he placed his hand on it. The ref went wild and indicated we had managed to beat the InjunKnees, a team no-one thought would be beaten.

We were dressed in our all-black jerseys, black shorts, black socks with OPTOMETRY in front and  ZEISS in white on the back. To show our appreciation to our jersey sponsors after a few beers – also kindly sponsored by them – we would shout “ZEISS ist Scheiss!”  I’ll admit, sometimes we weren’t impeccably behaved.


That game against those InjunKnees: We had spent 79 mins desperately defending our tryline when some scrawny scrumhalf type happened to get the ball by mistake and hoofed it as hard as he could in the opposite direction of where we’d been back-pedaling all day. Those days his hair colour matched the colour of our jersey; Nowadays the bits that are left match the colour of our logo.

We got a line-out near their line, Hubby fell down, the ball fell next to him and he inadvertently became a match-winning hero.

I forget if he gave a speech afterwards in the Dev but we wouldn’t have listened to him anyway. We’d have sung ‘How The Hell Can We Buh-LEEEV You!?’

The game was played on the Normaal kollege grounds in Empire Road, Jo’burg. We shouted for our hosts as we waited for them to finish their game so we could trot onto their field and display our brilliance. Up Normaal!! we shouted. Ab-normaal!

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On 2018/12/11 Peter Brauer (he of scrawny scrumhalf fame) wrote: Classic example of how bashful props become more truthful/eloquent when their throats aren’t parched.

Uh, Correction, Mrs Bedford!

** recycled post ** updated **

In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be his last game.

Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford, – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith English teacher and the captain’s Mom – hence our feeling like special guests! – up in the stands. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.

Tommy Bedford Springbok

Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”

We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.

jane-bedford-portrait

Mrs Bedford taught English as second language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!

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After:

In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.

So I didn’t.

It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.

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Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’

Bain of Harrismith

My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven ‘Royal Bains’ and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and were not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel!

Playing rugby for Hilton, ‘Bain of Harrismith’ became the ‘Bane of Michaelhouse’ in the first rugby game between these two toffee-nosed schools.

This old report was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure: 

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that that beat “pretty passing”.

A century later these rugby genes would shine again as Bain’s great-great-grandson also whipped Michaelhouse.

Lovely picture of the Michaelhouse scrum on top.

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Rugby in Harrismith was full of Bains and Blands:

1921 Rugby Team Bains Blands

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Rugger Bugger

I skipped rugby in matric. Sort of  an act of rebellion, or rather a statement of independence, really. The next year I played a season of high school American football in Oklahoma. Sort of.

Apache Football.jpg

When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen Barker joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go from Doornfontein in the green 1969-ish Toyota Corolla 1600 he inherited from his gran to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.

I doubt there were thirty players in the under-21 age group, so we made the B side by default and got to wear Wanderers cheerful colours; Some games I remember playing were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers; Rugged mining characters, some of those!

At far-away Strathvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the senior thirds – they were short. Their game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man and  . . . . .  was carried off on a stretcher.

Who knows what happened, but at about five or six seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shithouses and liked nothing more than explosive contact!

strathvaal-rugby a Strathvaal ou

A Brief Encounter

I had skipped rugby in matric, then played seven games of high school American football in Oklahoma. When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen Barker joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go in the green 1969-ish Toyota Corona 1600 he inherited from his gran to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.

wanderers rugby2

I doubt there were 30 players among the under-21’s so we made the B side – probably by default; Opposition teams I remember were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers; Pirates; Rugged bliksems all.

At Strathvaal in the Wes Transvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the senior 3rds – they were short. Their game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man and  – BOOM! was carried off on a stretcher.

Who knows what happened, but at about ten seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shit houses and seemed to enjoy them some explosive contact!

The yellow & blue hoops of Strathvaal!

Strathvaal rugby

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I played a short international soccer game too, once.

Rugby Free State u/13 Champs

It was quite a year. I had shot up and was the tallest blonde in the team (Coenie Meyer was the only other one!), but our real strength lay in an outstanding flyhalf called De Wet Ras and great teamwork. We were coached by a tennis champ called Bruce who inspired us to give our all. We beat all-comers and moved on to play against bigger teams. We drew one game against Bethlehem Voortrekker 0-0, our “winning” De Wet Ras drop kick sailing high directly above the right upright, so the ref did not award it. We beat them in a re-match.

We were the Harrismith under thirteen team of 1967, playing in bright orange, looking for all the world like mangos complete with little green leaves on top and some black spots below.!

HarrismithU13Rugby cropped_2.jpg

At the end of the season we were unbeaten and happy.

But then we read in the newspaper, The Friend of Bloemfontein:

Free State u/13 Champs: 140 points for and 0 against!

And they weren’t talking about us – it was an u/13 team from Virginia. We thought: Free State Champs? Like Hell! We also thought: Where the hell’s Virginia? Bruce phoned them and challenged them to come and play us. “No, we’re Free State Champs”, they said, “Can’t you read? You’ll have to come to us!”

Off we went to Virginia in Bruce’s white Cortina and Giel du Toit’s black Mercedes 190. There we watched their second team play Saaiplaas, a little mining village team. We cheered Saaiplaas on and exhorted them to victory! They beat the Virginia seconds 3-0, their first defeat. I can still hear our hooker Skottie Meyer shouting mockingly – he was full of nonsense like that! – “Thlaaiplaath!! Thlaiplaath!!”

Our turn next and the Saaiplaas boys did their best to be heard above the din of the enthusiastic local supporters. It was a tight match but we had the edge, our left wing Krugertjie being stopped inches from the left corner flag and our right wing Krugertjie pulled down inches from the right corner flag. Yep, identical twins, find them in the pic. The difference at the final whistle was a De Wet Ras drop goal from near the halfway line. 3-0 to us to complete a bad day for ex-Free State Champs Virginia.

What’s Next?
Now Bruce Humphries had the Free State’s biggest fish in his sights: Grey College Bloemfontein. No, they didn’t really think they’d want to play us and anyway they were off on a tour to Natal that week, thank  you. “Well”, said Bruce “You can’t get back from Natal without passing through Harrismith, and you wouldn’t really sneak past us would you?”

So the game was on! That day the pawiljoen at the park was packed with our enthusiastic supporters and cars ringed the field. Our followers’ numbers had grown as the season progressed and excitement at our unbeaten tag increased. No Grey College team had ever played in this little outpost before.

Another tough game ensued, but a try just left of the posts by the tallest blonde in our team was the difference: We beat them 8-3, all the other points being scored by our points machine and tactical general De Wet!

What a year!

see: Not that Generaal De Wet.

Beating the Rest
When it came to selecting an Eastern Free State team, the other schools introduced a twist: Not only did you have to be under thirteen, you also had to be in primary school! This excluded a few of our boys, who were in Std 6 (Gr8). So we only had four of our team chosen. So we challenged them to a game. Told them it would do them good to have a warm-up game against the rest of us before they went to Bloem to play in a tournament. Having been chosen as reserve, I was lucky: I could play for “us”! Plus we ‘innocently’ added Gabba Coetzee to boost our depleted team. With their permission. He was in Std 6 and just too old to actually be under thirteen. He was a legendary machine of an eighth man!

Ho Hum! 17-0

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L: Bruce Humphries (coach); R: Ben Marais (coach)

Heads L-R: Dana Moore, Attie Labuschagne, Leon Fluffy Crawley, De Wet Ras, Redge Jelliman, Skottie Meyer, Conradie, Hansie, Irené Tuffy Joubert, Coenie Meyer, Peter Koos Swanepoel, Kruger, Kobus Odendaal, Kruger, Max Wessels

– Wonder what that trophy is that De Wet is holding? Handsome Vrystaters Floating Trophy?

.

We got word that Bruce Humphries passed away in about 2011. 
Go Well Sir!  We'll never forget that 1967 rugby season.

Playing in the Snow

1973, on my way back from the States, I fly to New York on a Monday in December and ask for a flight to Johannesburg via London.

‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. The old man had paid for my ticket on his shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.

Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $25. I got $25 a month ‘allowance’ in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then. And sixty cents. (R1 = $1.42)

I put my suitcase – see pic below – in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and take the key.

Hop on a bus to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to look for the SAA offices. ‘That’ll be $2’.

At the SAA office I get, ‘Sorry, can’t help’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.

Back to JFK airport and sleep on the floor. The damn benches spitefully have armrests for each seat so you can’t lie down on them. Fitful sleep on the hard floor broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roars up to me at 3am. ‘Move along there’, says the cleaner driving the vengeful beast.

Tuesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I’m rather peckish so I stroll around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I find a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that includes as much beer as you can drink, so I think OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Then I wander the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going.

Wednesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they tell me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!’ To celebrate I book into the YMCA without my suitcase so I can have a shower. ‘That’ll be $11’ for the smallest room I have ever slept in: Just barely bigger than a small single bed.

Thursday I’m squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK. My ticket is now ‘transferable’ and I take the first plane to London: Air India. I grab a discarded newspaper lying on a bench on my way to board. It’s a jumbo jet – my first!

Air India 1973.jpg

Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’. Again”. Their cabin crew is on strike so admin staff are ‘standing in for them’ – by doing nothing. A much older lass I meet on the plane – she was probably all of thirty – feels sorry for me so she buys me a Pommy cold pork pie on the way out of Heathrow. Tastiest pie ever.

I’m on my way to meet a connection Don Inglis who once lived in Harrismith and is now in London for a year, so he knows the place. Turns out he has a rugby match playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurry around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and head off to Wimbledon for the game.

Five rugby okes are squeezed into his little Austin something. At the ground the players huddle in a cold shed to change and notice they’re a couple of boerkies short can I play? Sure, I say, but only half the first half, then I have to catch a tube to Heathrow. Thank goodness (it’s sleeting outside) Don says rather don’t risk missing your flight. So they run out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.

Rugby in London_2

Between scrums Don shouts out which tubes and buses I should catch and I leave before the halftime whistle to head south after a year in foreign climes. I’m very much looking forward to getting home now.

Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gives me lip when I order a third beer so I’m feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.

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Diederiks Ront – SA currency; Our finance minister’s name was Diederiks

asseblief – puh-leez!

Saffer – South African

boerkies – South Africans

koffie poppie – SAA air hostess

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The old man’s Barclaycard was brand new. Maybe he was persuaded to get one by a glass of sherry and a blonde?

barclaycard_launch

I recently (2019) packed some clothes for my 90yr-old Mom as she was going to stay in a home for the aged for a while. Get my suitcase down from on top of my cupboard, she said. It was the suitcase I had used to go to Apache 46 years ago!

From: Box 123 Harrismith – To: Box 307 Apache OK 73006

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