Yesterday’s rugby test at Emirates Park
produced a rare first that will soon be reprised in one of those quiz nights
that seem to be all the rage at the moment.
For the first time in the annals of South African rugby, the sons
of fathers who were also Springboks were captain and vice-captain of a test
Schalk Burger, son of former lock “Groot” Schalk Burger, led the
Boks out for the first time – and on the team sheet Ruan Pienaar, son of former
fullback Gysie Pienaar, was listed as his vice-captain.
It was the late Dr Danie Craven who said that to become a
Springbok, or a top-flight sportsperson for that matter, “runs in the genes”.
The good doctor’s contention certainly rings true for Springbok rugby with a
number of sons following their fathers into the green and gold – not to mention
brothers and other familial relationships.
Yesterday’s Boks team certainly bore testimony to the assertion
that if you are born with a dollop of “the good stuff”, you have a chance of
making it to the top.
Apart from Burger and Pienaar, the squad also included two other
sons of Springbok fathers.
On the reserves bench was Flip van der Merwe, the son of big
Flippie who was a Springbok prop in the 80s, and reserve scrum half Cobus
Reinach who is the offspring of the late Jaco Reinach, the record-breaking 400m
sprinter who played four tests against the New Zealand Cavaliers in 1986.
And there were even more binding ties – none more so than the
front-row brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis who, tightly bound at hooker
and prop, respectively, have played more tests than any other sets of
Flanker Francois Louw, a former Western Province player who is the
captain of Bath in the English Premiership, is the grandson of former Bok
captain and lock Jan Pickard.
So while someone like trade unionist and social agitator Tony
Ehrenreich was busy with his racial colouring-in book – such is the politically
charged nature of South African sport – others were spotting unusual
There have been many father-and-son and brothers-in-arms
combinations in world rugby but none, as far as I could establish, that rivals
the Ndungane brothers – identical twins who both played wing for their
Sadly, they never got to play together, on either side of the
field, in the same Springbok team; Akona earned his 11 caps in 2006 and 2007 and
Odwa his nine from 2008 onwards.
In the who’s who of Springbok rugby, there have been other fathers
and sons – Alf (1921-1924) and Harry Walker (1953-1956).
They were followed by Cecil and Mike Jennings, Mauritz and Derek
van den Berg, Louis and Uli Schmidt, Joggie and Joggie Viljoen Snr, Moaner and
Wikus van Heerden and Hennie and Andries Bekker.
However, none can hold a candle to the Du Plessis’ of
Felix (1949) and Morné (1971-1980) are the only father and son
combination to have captained the Springboks.
In the case of Morné, who also managed the 1995 World Cup team,
Craven’s theory is carried even further.
His mother Pat (née Smethhurst) captained South Africa in hockey,
his uncle was the national soccer captain (when this team also wore the
Springbok) and another uncle, Norman, was a “Springbok” footballer.
The recent capping of Blue Bulls prop Marcel van der Merwe makes
his famous Afrikaner surname and Du Plessis the last names that appear most
often in the list of Springboks – 11 times apiece.