A look back at some of UCT’s rugby greats

The Late Ivan Nurick was considered the unofficial historian of UCT Rugby and his knowledge, memory and statistical recall of Varsity rugby players was remarkable and could have been described as encyclopaedic.

In his book “Hooked on Varsity”, published in 2009, Ivan shared his Varsity memoirs. We thought it would be good to share these selections in memory of a great UCT and UCT Rugby man. Here Ivan looks back at his selection of the greatest UCT rugby players from over half a century of UCT rugby.

(left to right) Derek van den Berg, Ivan Nurick, Doc Cecil Moss and John le Roux

Ian McCallum (front-centre)

Fullbacks: During my time, the best fullbacks were Ian McCallum, HO de Villiers, Denis Robinson and Clark Ellis. Other excellent fullbacks include Nols van Heerden, Fanie van der Spuy, Robbie Buck and Frank Duk. Sinclair Warner would clearly have been one of the best if not for his detached retina. Gavin Lawless and Michael Ehrentraut were also fine players, although the latter did not live up to his school reputation.

Wings: in the 1940s, Basil Butler was the star player on the wing. Other outstanding wings were Cecil Moss, who was also at home at centre or fullback, and Al Smith. Later came Sammy Loots, Laurie McKay and Stewart Wood, whose brothers Noel and Robin also played for Varsity.

In the 1960s, Zed Tomes, John Wootton and Barry Clements stood out. Tomes and McKay were also equally at home at centre. Clearly the star of the 1970s was Chris Pope, while Pete Berning and Alan Cunard were also good players. In the 1980s, Malcolm Brown was an outstanding wing and centre, who surprisingly never won representative honours. Fine wings of this decade also included Graham Ducasse and Paul Francis, followed in the 1990s by Simon Berridge, Anthony Roberts, Anton Delport and Andrew Dunn. In the new millennium, John Bradshaw stands out, as does Mathew Turner. The recent trio of Zane Johnson, Marvin Christians and Marcello Sampson is also extremely good.

Marcello Sampson

Peter Whipp (with ball)

Centres: Orthodox centres include Nellis Beyers from the 1940s and Paul Johnstone, who was also very good on the wing – the position in which he represented South Africa. Alex Fry was a fine player at centre or wing but greatly affected by injury. Larry Taylor and John Dallas stand out in the 1950s whereas Piet Olivier, who also played fullback; Buddy Swartz, an outstanding defender, and Nelson Babrow come to mind in the 1960s. Peter Whipp obviously dominates in the 1970s while fine players of the 1980s include Niall Edwards and Michael Howe. Other excellent centres were Dave Curtis and Jonathan Roche, who seemed to be on the way to Springbok honours when playing for Natal but suffered a serious injury. In the 1990s, Robbie Fleck and Steve Mussett were outstanding while other good centres include Alistair Collins and Dave Cumming. More recently, Tim Bradfield and Shaun van Tonder look very promising

Five-eights: (which according to New Zealand definition stands for players who are equally at home at flyhalf and centre) in the late 1940s and early 1950s included Dennis Fry, Kosie du Plessis and Koppel Brown as well as Brian Pfaff. Mike Gillies and John Colley were followed by Richard Nurse in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, Dirk Hoffman played at centre for-Varsity, having been a schoolboy flyhalf. In this decade, Brent Russell stands out as a brilliant flyhalf for Varsity who went on to play flyhalf, fullback and wing for South Africa. He could also play scrumhalf.

Brian Pfaff

Mike Lawless (with ball)

Flyhalves: Puggy Munnik and Billy Griffiths were good flyhalves in the 1940s. Henry Joffe, so unlucky not to play for South Africa, Gordon Kirby and John Midgley played well in the 1950s and John Benn in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mike Lawless and Mike Nicolai were outstanding flyhalves of the early 1960, when Grant Abernethy and Ken Dovey also stood out as fine players. In the next decade, Tim Brukman and Steve Jakoby were excellent, and Kevin Arnott captained Varsity from flyhalf in the early 1980s. In the 1990s, Lance Sherrell and Tom Barlow excelled as players and fine kickers, and were later followed by the wonderful Brent Russell, as mentioned above.

Scrumhalves: Varsity was particularly strong during the post-war years, when Don Lonsdale and John Youngleson played at scrumhalf. In the 1950s Dick Lockyear came onto the scene, playing in eight successive Inter-varsities. Tommy Gentles generally played second team but was preferred over Lockyear for South Africa at that stage. In the late 1950s, the best scrumhalf was Aubrey Luck and then in the early 1960s Dave Barrow and Pete Swift, who were followed by UCT heroes Roy McCallum, Bruce Cloete and Dave Zietsman. In the 1980s, we find Mark Burton Moore and Andy Kirsten and in the 1990s Mikey Kirsten and Gary Kirsten.

Roy McCallum

Gus Enderstein

Front rankers: Des Dukas was Varsity’s strongest front ranker in the 1940s, succeeded by Keith Chapman and Andy Beyers in the 1950s and Basil Bey in the late 1950s. Derek van den Berg was a great star of the 1960s, Gus Enderstein a fine captain and Jeff le Roux a great prop. In the 1970s, the fine trio of Doug Claxton, Roger Bryant and Doug Mather followed by Gareth Jones, the Province forward and magnificent club captain. In the 1980s, Paul Day and Keith Andrews and later Andrew Lanning were excellent front rankers, as were Dave Senekal and Michael Bryant.

Hookers: Varsity produced many fantastic hookers such as Piet Duvenage, Bertus van der Merwe, Jack Gant and Nic Labuschagne, who played in the 1940s and early ’50s – as did Colin Kroon. Mike Hoard and Piet Durandt played at this position in the 1960s.

I have a little story to tell involving Piet Durandt: In about 1966, I parked my car as usual at Groote Schuur Hospital where I worked. A lady approached and asked me how she could find Mr Durandt, the hospital secretary. I told her where to go and added that he was the brother of Piet Durandt, the Varsity hooker. She walked off with a puzzled look. I did not meet her again for about 30 years. Then I came across her in two ways: firstly, she had become the secretary of Martin Shelton, a friend and classmate of mine, who was also my wife’s gynaecologist, and secondly she had become the partner of a very good, unmarried friend of mine. She told me then that ever since our conversation in Groote Schuur car park, she had wondered how a male could be a hooker?

Other excellent Varsity hookers were Bruce Butler and Pete Ingwersen. The latter experienced the heartbreak of sitting on the bench for Province many times without getting onto the field once, while he in turn kept Steve Orlin, a good hooker, out of the first team. Subsequently Ingwersen has done very well in rugby administration. Later Graham Dukas, Johnny Joubert, Greg Cooper and Brett van Caller played outstandingly well.

Dr. Colin Kroon

Bodo Sieber (tackler)

(left to right) Butch Deuchar, Athol McLean, Nicky Krone, Charlie Latham and Roy McCallum.

Locks: This has probably been our weakest position as most Varsity students were well below six foot five and 260 pounds. However, we have produced some good locks. Nelles Vintcent captained Varsity in the 1940s and almost played for England whereas Tom Hugo-Hamman and Ben Hall were good players of the late 1940s and early ’50s. Kallie van der Colf was a fine lock of the late 1950s, who played for four provinces. Jimmy de Jager, who still is a big supporter of the club, was also a fine lock, as was Okkie le Roux, prop and lock of the early 1960s.

One of our best, John Rushmere, followed. Also a good cricketer, he opened the bowling for WP with Hamish Miller and then played lock for Eastern Province. Later Pierre Edmunds, Jumbo Anderson and Paul “Frik” du Preez were good locks. We have two players by the name of “G Watt”, who were not related: Graham Watt was a regular for Province and Gerry Watt played mainly second team but later captained Border. The star lock of the 1970s was another great Varsity man, Butch Deuchar. Another lock, Chris Hugo-Hamman, son of Tom, was cheerleader in 1976 and first team captain two years later. John Gibberd was also a good lock and a Varsity stalwart. In the 1980s, Neil McDonald was an excellent lock — as were Rob Walker, Greg Morse and Andrew Knight, who also played eighthman. Ross Skeate has been one of our very best locks and German international Bodo Sieber has served the club well.

Loose forwards: In the late 1940s, the later Springbok captain Stephen Fry played No 8 for Varsity. He was followed by Lance Steytler and Mike Watermeyer, a fast but light flank. Then came a brilliant No 8, Keith McMillan, and superb flanks in the 1950s such as Smoothy Johnson and Spotty Watson. Pierre van der Merwe was also excellent and Peter Martin and Basil Holmes were fine eighthmen. The 1960s emerged to be a wonderful period of Varsity loose forwards, producing Fanus du Tait, Louis de Waal and later the outstanding flankers John le Roux, Preston Robertson and Colin Foster. Steve Hillock and Gavin Birch were brilliant eighthmen in this period.

The stars of the 1970s were the No 8s Nick Mallett and Dugald Macdonald and the flankers Andy Donovan, Richard Skeeles and Mark Anderson, who exuded provincial class. In the 1980s, one finds good eighthmen in Willem van der Merwe, Ian Bourhill and Paul Anderson, who as a Matie was responsible for our losing the 1978 Intervarsity and later captained us. Dave Johnson, son of Colin Johnson who played for Eastern Province, was also a very good loose forward.

John le Roux (right)

Dugald Macdonald (left)

Dave Rickets (with ball)

In the 1990s, outstanding loose forwards include Andrew Semark, Robin Cotterell, Rob Brink, Andy Aitken, Chad Lion-Cachet, Michael Hyne and Janik Hendrickz. In the present decade, we have had valuable players such as Craig Kleu and Kristin van den Berg, while Dave Rickets was also a good loose forward. The recent trio of Enoch Panya, Nic Fenton Wells and Jonathan Gagiano was also excellent.