Those rugby ties that bind

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

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 record­break­ing 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-andson 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.

PHOTO: AP PHOTO / RICK OSENTOSKI

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