Mind Games: Those rugby ties that bind

2015-07-26 15:00

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 team.

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 brothers.

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 affiliations.

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 country.

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 Stilfontein.

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.

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