Syd Nomis: hero of epic 25 tests as Boks’ ‘Lucky Jew’
Popular Springbok wing and centre held record for consecutive tests for decades
● Sydney (Syd) Nomis, an enduringly popular Springbok wing and centre, died of a heart attack on Youth Day last Saturday. He was 76.
His speed, big-match temperament and remarkable consistency helped set a benchmark of 25 consecutive tests for the Springboks between 1967 and 1972. His six tries don’t suggest a high strike rate, but some of them are worthy of any highlights reel.
His general contribution to the sport was recognised in 1999 when he was inducted in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Sydney Harold Nomis, the son of a dentist, was born in Johannesburg on November 15 1941 and did most of his growing up in Cyrildene in the east of the city. He attended Marist Brothers College and matriculated through Damelin.
At school Nomis played first-team cricket and rugby and was a talented track athlete too.
He represented the Transvaal under-20 side and later joined Wanderers, where in 1964 he met Hugh Bladen, who was to become a lifelong pal.
Their friendship was forged in the rough and tumble of the club rugby scene. “My first first-team game was a night game at West Rand in Krugersdorp,” said Bladen. “They had Fanie Kuhn, Toy Dannhauser, Ouboet Herbst, Spanner Martins and Reguitarm van Tonder.
“We finished the game with 11 players. Mickey Gerber broke ribs and Syd suffered a broken cheekbone. It was tough.”
Bladen recalled a telegram the displaced John Gainsford sent Nomis on the eve of his test debut against France in 1967. Nomis had replaced the veteran. It read: “Like I’m sad, man. Like I’m glad, man. Congratulations. Have a great game.”
Nomis went on to play 25 consecutive tests, a record surpassed only in 1997 by Gary Teichmann.
He was referred as the “Lucky Jew” as it was felt his presence brought good luck to the team. The Springboks won 19 of the 25 tests in which Nomis played.
On a trip to Zurich to visit his son in 2010, Nomis developed a clot in his left leg. Faced with the prospect of either developing gangrene or suffering a heart attack, he had his leg amputated at the knee. It did not diminish his spirit.
Nomis could light up a room. Whether on a couch in the lounge at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London, or in the Jannie le Roux Saal at Ellis Park, many gravitated to his banter and laughter.
His playing days made him one of the most recognisable characters of his generation.
Nomis inadvertently entered rugby folklore en route to scoring an intercept try against the All Blacks at Loftus in 1970. Revered Afrikaans radio commentator Gerhard Viviers was a little lost for words and could only excitedly muster “Syddie, Syddie, Syddie”, as Nomis closed in on the tryline.
The two became friendly, with Nomis often telling Viviers “You made me famous”, to which Viviers would reply: “No, you made me famous.”
While Viviers’s commentary brought vivid colour to the try at Loftus, Nomis’s effort against France in Colombes in Paris in 1968 was shot in hazy black and white. It wasn’t any less memorable as Nomis, who had kicked ahead into the goal area, was pulled off balance by French hooker Jean-Paul Baux.
Nomis went to ground and time seemed to stand still as he crawled to the bobbing ball as the French defenders closed in. He got there, just.
One of the flashpoints in the 1970 home series against the All Blacks came in the second test at Newlands when, after kicking ahead, Nomis collected the arm of All Blacks fullback Fergie McCormick.
He lost some teeth, a few of which ended up in the hands of referee Wynand Malan, who happened to be a dentist.
Nomis leaves his wife, Anne, son Gary, daughters, Jo-Anne and Romy, and four grandchildren.