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
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
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
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