Lategan played in golden Bok era

2015-03-10 10:23
Tjol Lategan (File)

Cape Town - Marthinus Theunis ‘Tjol’ Lategan, who passed away on Sunday at the age 89 (the third oldest living Springbok at the time of his death) was an outstanding centre in one of the Golden Ages of South African rugby, in the years that rugby re-emerged in South Africa following the Second World War.

He entered the competitive ranks of senior club rugby in Western Province as a member of the Stellenbosch University Rugby Football Club. As such he represented Maties in tough Town Challenge and Grand Challenge encounters against the best of the province as well as in intervarsity competition.

As part of the post-Second World War (1939-1945) rugby generation, he formed part of the new crop of players that had to put South African rugby back on track after a most divisive internal conflict following major disputes over the use of rugby as a means to raise funds for war support services.

Following credible performances an club level, Lategan was selected for the Western Province side in 1947 - a non- Currie Cup year since the South Africa was scheduled to receive a visit from the New Zealand All Blacks.

Given the task of post-war reconstruction throughout the Western world, this tour, however, was cancelled and South Africa only received its first post-war tour in 1949.

Given South Africa’s own reconstruction challenges, some of which also impacted on rugby, the Currie Cup competition was suspended for three years and was only to resume in 1950.

This left talented players such as Lategan with no other option but to hone their skills through friendly inter-provincial games, occasional festival games and playing in select combinations.

By 1949 when the All Blacks arrived, Lategan’s form was inconsistent at best.

He, however, still made it into the Combined Universities side that faced the All Blacks at Newlands on May 31. The students gave the tourists a serious fright and narrowly went down by 11-9.

Rugby historian Robert Stent thus noted that by the time that Western Province faced the tourists in the 11th match, Lategan had been dropped to the university's second team.

This had the desired result and almost immediately motivated the young player to refocus and to apply himself to the task at hand.

In the subsequent match a week later and on the back of a disappointing performance by his provincial team-mates, Lategan won his Springbok colours for the first Test in Cape Town, the Test in which Okey Geffin kicked five penalties to defeat the visitors by 15-11.

Lategan not only succeeded in maintaining his place against stiff competition, but also scored his first Test try in the Second Test in Johannesburg.

Danie Craven noted in Springbok Annals: “(Sic) The Springboks returned to the attack, and Lategan broke nicely. When confronted by Scott he kicked over his head, but Scott got to, Lategan bring him down the ball first.”

In addition to making a solid defensive contribution, the same publication noted later in the game: “From him (Hennie Muller) it flew to Brewis, and Lategan who streaked through the gap with Van Schoor and Moss on his outside. When the defence went for those two, he ran through on their inside and scored a very good try.

“So enthusiastic was the crowd that some spectators got hold of Lategan and would not let him go, the police having to extricate him from all the hands!”

After this important achievement he settled down and really started to make an impression with solid tackling, incisive running, good ball distribution and generally threatening the opposition goal line.

This series also started the long-lasting and renowned centre-combination of Lategan and Van Schoor.

At age 25 years and following a season without Currie Cup rugby, Lategan embarked on his first overseas tour to the United Kingdom and France as a member of the 1951/52 Springboks.

During this tour he showed consistent form and played in 20 of the 31 matches, including five Tests and scored three tries against Scotland, South of Scotland and South West France respectively.

At the start of the next season, Lategan exchanged the hooped jersey of Western Province for the Black and Old Gold of their country neighbours, Boland, Currie Cup finalists in 1952.

The Wine Farmers as the team was nicknamed played a hard and uncompromising type of rugby and with the likes of fellow Springboks Chris Koch and Buks Marais fundamentally enhancing the competitiveness of the rural-based union.

By the time that John Solomon’s Wallaby team arrived in 1953, Lategan was an established member of the Springbok Test side and was duly included in the side for the First Test at Ellis Park.

Yet again he contributed a try after picking up a difficult rolling ball and had to run from his 22 to add to the 25-3 victory score posted by the national side.

He also scored a try for Boland in a narrow 14-13 defeat against the tourists at Wellington.

Following a shock 18-14 Wallaby victory in the second Test, the first Springbok defeat in 10 consecutive Test matches, Lategan and five of his team-mates were dropped for the Third Test in Durban.

He was not selected for the Springboks again.

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby

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