El­lis leaves be­hind proud Bok his­tory

For­mer loose-for­ward suc­cumbs to can­cer at 71

Daily Dispatch - - Clas­si­fied / Sport - By PETER MARTIN

RUGBY fans will al­ways re­mem­ber one of South Africa’s great­est loose­for­wards, Jan Hen­drik El­lis as a tall, fiery, red-head, al­ways su­per­fit and a fast flank who formed an out­stand­ing loose-for­ward part­ner­ship with Piet Greyling.

They played to­gether in 25 Tests. Greyling was the fetcher, play­ing a less spec­tac­u­lar role, while El­lis, of­ten run­ning with the ball in one hand, was the at­tack­ing one of the duo.

Sadly, El­lis died from can­cer in a Pre­to­ria hospice on Fe­bru­ary 8 at the age of 71.

The man­ner in which he and Greyling dom­i­nated the break­downs was one of the pri­mary rea­sons why the Spring­boks out­played the 1970 All Blacks in South Africa.

Dur­ing his ca­reer El­lis weighed 97.5kg and stood 1.85m tall. He was an ob­ses­sive trainer and his speed and fit­ness led him to score seven Test tries and a phe­nom­e­nal 32 in the 74 ap­pear­ances he made in all Spring­bok matches.

He made his fi­nal ap­pear­ance in a 16-7 win over the 1976 All Blacks in Dur­ban, equalling the great Frik du Preez’s record of 38 Spring­bok Test ap­pear­ances.

How­ever, his life af­ter rugby was not all roses. In De­cem­ber 2000 El­lis was at­tacked dur­ing a botched armed rob­bery and shot. Not one to give up eas­ily, he held onto his ad­ver­sary with one hand, phoned the police with the other while los­ing a lot of blood. He never fully re­cov­ered from the in­ci­dent.

El­lis was born in Brak­pan, Jo­han­nes­burg, but moved to South West Africa (now Namibia) at a young age, stay­ing at a sheep and cat­tle farm­ing town, Gob­a­bis, close to the Botswana border. He later cap­tained South West Africa (SWA) schools. He was a prod­uct of Wen­nie Du Plessis High School in Gob­a­bis, and this is where he cut his teeth with the oval ball.

Barely out of his shorts, the rugby crazy El­lis would fea­ture for the school’s rugby team in the morn­ing, only to resur­face with the town’s se­nior team in the af­ter­noon.

As a young man he rep­re­sented SWA at lock against the tour­ing British Lions team of 1962 and af­ter some good per­for­mances for SWA he was cho­sen to ap­pear in the Spring­bok tri­als in 1965. He was se­lected as a flank for the tour to Aus­tralia and New Zealand. The other flanks cho­sen were Jo­han “Haas” Schoe­man and Jo­hannes “Lofty” Nel, a vet­eran of the 1960 All Blacks series, while Du Preez, se­lected as a lock, was also used as a flank.

Aus­tralia out­played the Boks, win­ning 18-11 at Syd­ney and 12-8 at Bris­bane, the fifth con­sec­u­tive Test lost by South Africa dur­ing 1964-1965.

At Welling­ton he re­placed Du Preez, who re­turned to lock the scrum with Ja­cobus “Tiny” Naude, but the Test was lost 6-3, as was the sec­ond Test at Dunedin when the score was 13-0, the Boks’ seventh Test loss in a row.

How­ever, af­ter be­ing down 16-5 at half­time in the third Test at Christchurch, two tries to wing Gert Bry­nard and one to vet­eran cen­tre John Gains­ford and a last­gasp penalty goal by Naude al­lowed South Africa to sneak in with a 19-16 vic­tory. The fourth Test was lost at Auck­land, and the Boks had to vir­tu­ally re­build for the 1967 series with France.

A new and ex­cit­ing, run­ning full­back HO de Vil­liers re­placed Lionel Wil­son, Piet Vis­agie re­placed Keith Oxlee at fly­half, Al­bie de Waal took over from the in­jured Doug Hop­wood at eighth­man, and a new fron­trow of Ja­cobus “Tiny” Neeth­ling, Gys Pitzer and Gert Kotze be­came a hand­ful for the French. Add elu­sive run­ner Eben Olivier at cen­tre and Gawie Carelse at lock, and the Boks looked like world-beat­ers. They beat France 2-1 with one Test drawn.

In 1968 El­lis played in all four Tests against the tour­ing British Isles team (SA won 3-0 with one drawn), and he went on a short tour to France later that year, with both Tests won. In 1969 all four Tests against Aus­tralia were won at home.

The 1969-1970 Spring­bok team to the British Isles be­came to be known as the “Demo” tour, with po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tions at vir­tu­ally all the games. El­lis played in the Test against Scot­land, which was lost 6-3, and was un­able to play against Eng­land, who won 113. Alby Bates took his place and this was the first Test he had missed in a se­quence of 19 matches. But he was back for the Tests against Ire­land and Wales. Both of th­ese Tests were drawn, giv­ing the 1969-1970 team the worst record of any Bok Grand Slam tour­ing team over­seas.

In the last match of the tour on Jan­uary 31 1970, El­lis scored two tries against a strong Bar­bar­ians side who were beaten 21-12.

His sec­ond try is de­scribed by rugby writer Chris Greyven­sten: “Twelve min­utes to go and the ball rolls loose 40 me­tres from the Bar­bar­ians’ goal. Swoop­ing down on it is Jan El­lis, the red-haired flank from South West Africa. The ball is scooped up in one easyflow­ing, al­most ca­sual, move­ment and then he is off in that lop­ing, long strid­ing run of his. Two de­fend­ers are brushed aside with a flip of the shoul­der and a sway of the hips. An­other one is beaten with an all but im­per­cep­ti­ble change of pace. Now the ball is clutched in one big, freck­led hand and run­ning with per­fect bal­ance on the soft green turf, El­lis side­steps free of the cover de­fence with only Mike Gib­son, Ire­land’s out­stand­ing cen­tre, be­tween him and the try-line. A feint as if to pass and Gib­son goes the wrong way as El­lis thun­ders past him to score one of the great­est tries in the his­tory of in­ter­na­tional rugby with­out a fin­ger be­ing laid on him on his weav­ing 40m run.”

El­lis and Greyling reached their peak against the 1970 All Blacks. Fit, fast and fear­less, they con­trolled the loose ball and com­pletely dis­rupted the All Blacks’ pat­tern, with the Spring­boks win­ning the series 3-1.

Be­tween 1970 and 1974 El­lis was ever-present in the Bok Test team, also tour­ing Aus­tralia in 1971. How­ever, af­ter miss­ing the two Tests of the 1975 French tour at home, he played only one more Test, against New Zealand at Dur­ban. He was re­placed by The­uns Stof­berg, who was equally at home at flank or lock.

El­lis’s seven Test tries equalled the record at the time of Ferdie Bergh (1931-1938) for a for­ward and this was beaten by lock Mark An­drews in 1997.

In­ter­est­ingly, in the pub­li­ca­tion “The Cho­sen” a book that high­lights the 50 great­est Spring­boks of all time, El­lis was ranked num­ber 15 by joint au­thors Andy Colquhoun and Paul Dob­son.

El­lis is sur­vived by his wife Heila, a son and daugh­ter and five grand­chil­dren. He at­tended the wed­ding of one of his grand­chil­dren the week­end be­fore he died.

JAN EL­LIS

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