Syd Nomis: hero of epic 25 tests as Boks’ ‘Lucky Jew’

Pop­u­lar Spring­bok wing and cen­tre held record for con­sec­u­tive tests for decades

Sunday Times - - Classified | Obituaries -

● 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.

Del Carme

Pic­ture: Ray­mond Pre­ston

Syd Nomis.

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