BIDDING FAREWELL TO SOUTH AFRICAN RUGBY LEGEND
YOUR article “Rugby great mourned” in THE PAST 24 HOURS, on page 2, Wednesday, October 10 refers.
Given that Theunis Briers was my uncle and my childhood hero, it was disappointing to not see any reference in the Cape Times, prior to today, relating to his passing away on Sunday morning. I was relieved to see the tribute in Wednesday’s newspaper, but unfortunately the brief report does not do justice to one of our greatest Springbok wings of all time – only mentioning that he was a Springbok in the 1955 British Lions tour and then the 1956 New Zealand tour.
More significant on the 1955 tour was that he scored a (then) record five tries against the Lions (most by any Springbok in any Test series) and that this record stood till well into the 1970s. Of interest is that one of the Lions’ wings was a new young Irish wing – Tony O’Reilly (previous owner of Independent Media) and that Briers broke O’Reilly’s collar bone during the series when he tackled him in cover defence.
This was also the series which had the famous missed kick when, after the final whistle, Jack van der Schyff missed the conversion to take the score from a 22-23 loss to a 24-23 win for the Springboks – this was the conversion of one of Briers’s five tries in the series.
The article says that Briers enjoyed his latter years as a farmer – which is not correct. He was a farmer from the start and, in fact, had not made himself available for the 1956 Springbok tour to New Zealand because of his farming commitments and later agreed to fly over as a replacement because of injuries sustained there.
This was the famous tour when the All Blacks went physical and played a New Zealand amateur heavyweight boxing champion (Kevin Skinner) as prop to brawl with the two Springbok props – swopping sides at half time (in those days there were no replacements and virtually no controls over what happened physically). Ironically, in this series, Briers once again broke the collar bone of one of the All Black players.
He was an immensely strong and fast winger, weighing well over 90kg and my childhood memories of him were those of a super hero, who also had a wonderful nature and sense of humour. In the early 1970s, I used to work for Briers on his farm during wine harvesting season and, besides being a heroic uncle, he also became a very close friend of mine. I am immensely grateful for his influence in my life – may he rest in peace.