Bok coach recalls Burger death
Leon Schuster talks about the Springboks, All Blacks, Heyneke Meyer and the Currie Cup in a radio interview with SA Sports Illustrated.
Cape Town - A particularly poignant recollection of the death of Chris Burger in 1980 is just one feature of a new book penned by the second-oldest living Springbok and a former national coach, Dr Cecil Moss, 87.
Dr Moss’s memoir “Doc Moss: My life in Rugby” was launched at Newlands on Wednesday with Springboks of various generations present, and addresses by HO de Villiers and Carel du Plessis, with Keith Andrews performing MC duties.
Apart from playing a full part as a wing (and vice-captain) in the landmark 4-0 home triumph over the 1949 All Blacks, Dr Moss also coached the Boks during an era mostly of isolation from 1982 to 1989 and was either a coach, convenor of selectors or manager in an often notably productive Western Province period between 1972 and 1992.
It was during this phase that the Burger tragedy occurred, in a Currie Cup game against Free State in Bloemfontein in August 1980 - an event later to spark the Chris Burger/Petro Jackson Players Fund, providing welcome aid to players injured in the game.
Versatile WP backline player Burger, 28, lay motionless late in the game after a loose scrum, and Dr Moss recalls: “Dr Augie Cohen, the WP and Springbok doctor at the time, rushed to his aid and Chris said ‘Dok, ek het geen gevoel in my bene en arms’ (Doc, I have no feeling in my legs and arms).
“He could not feel Augie’s pinpricks and was carried off the field on a wooden changing room door that was a hard, firm stretcher.
“I immediately dashed down to the change room where an orthopaedic surgeon was waiting. Augie and I (later) accompanied Chris in the ambulance to Universitas Hospital.
“At the hospital a neurosurgeon was waiting. It was by then apparent that his neck was broken. Mild traction was applied to attempt to release the pressure on the spinal cord, but to no avail.
“Chris was fully conscious when Morne du Plessis, our captain, and other team members arrived. As he left the ward, the consultant neurosurgeon told Morne the injury was a fatal one and that Chris was going to die – I then led the players in prayer and some of them returned at two-hourly intervals.
“His condition was slowly deteriorating. I was allowed to stay with him and I sat next to the bed holding his hand. He faced death with great courage and dignity. He said to me: ‘I know my God. I am ready to go’.
“He died peacefully of respiratory failure early that Sunday morning.”
Dr Moss tells how he had the pleasure of meeting Burger’s daughter Esmare – then only two years old - much more recently, and that she married in 2010.
On happier notes, Dr Moss’s recollections in the limited-release book (which is not intended to generate any significant profit or news-stand saturation) ought to find favour with rugby lovers who have followed the game at various levels - he is also a SACS and UCT stalwart - in this country for several decades.
Beyond the game he has been so consistently devoted to, he describes his family’s arrival in South Africa as pioneering Lithuanian Jews more than a century ago, and his professional life in medicine, including what he calls, with typical humility, a “small role” in the 1967 world-first human heart transplant under Dr Chris Barnard, and being anaesthetist to Nelson Mandela when he had an operation while a political prisoner in 1979.
*Doc Moss: My Life in Rugby is published by UCT Rugby Football Club (tel (021) 650 5757, www.uctrfc.co.za)