Derek van den Berg – His Blood Runs White and Blue!

Published by UCT Rugby Club

Not many families can boast two Springbok rugby players, but Derek van den Berg and his father, Mauritz, were the second father-son duo to join an unofficial and exclusive club of multigenerational rugby players who have represented the Springboks.  Mauritz, a Springbok in the late 1930’s, represented South Africa as a lock, and his son, Derek followed suit in the 1970’s, after playing for Ikeys and Western Province.

The seeds of Van den Berg’s rugby career were sown on the fields of Rondebosch High School and by the time he started a medical degree at UCT, he was a skilled and disciplined player.  He credits Dr. Cecil Moss’s novel and forward-thinking approach to coaching as a vital influence that helped him hone his craft in the early days at UCT Rugby Club between 1965 to 1970. Derek made his provincial debut in 1968, and represented the Springboks from 1974 to 1976.

Over the years Derek has shared many anecdotes that capture colourful memories of his time as an Ikey and Springbok player.  He discussed his time as a provincial player in an article by Varsity Spirit: [Read the full article here]

1975: Derek before Springbok debut against France.

Playing for Ikeys was definitely the most exciting time of my rugby career.  We had total commitment and a wonderful, adventurous attitude to playing winning rugby in the Varsity tradition.  Cecil Moss arrived in 1966 and revolutionised the senior teams.  Blondie Pienaar became the fitness coach and off-season weight trainer.  Varsity forwards beefed up and took on anyone at forward on equal terms.  Skills training, fitness sessions, the legendary Wednesday practice, and Saturday games filled six days a week, with only Friday free for a quiet movie with your girlfriend.

My overwhelming memory is one of unending fun that was integral to every facet of our time with Ikey rugby. Amidst all the sweat and strain, the wit and humour of Richard Nurse, Preston Robertson and Ian McCallum would keep us laughing, interspersed with the more serious retorts of Doc and Gus.  Rugby was our life and we thrived on it.  The results we achieved will bear witness to that. The highlights of every season were our games played against Stellenbosch University. There was unequalled rivalry as we pitted ourselves against the always star-studded Matie teams.  Intervarsity was even more intense, with the build-up of Groot Brag and formal dinners further adding to the tension. The rivalry seems to enhance the performance of every player.

I believe that much of my success on the rugby field was directly attributed to the foundation I received at UCT. Even more important is the enduring friendships which were founded at Varsity. I look back at a multitude of wonderful characters who all had special attributes which I admired, and hopefully I absorbed something from that unique time of my life.

1976: Van den Berg (centre) jostles for possession with All Blacks in Durban.

1973: Van den Berg secures lineout possession for Natal against Welsh touring side.

Playing for Western Province in 1967 was initially a confusing experience for a 21 year old. I was suddenly playing in a team with many of my boyhood heroes, including Springboks Charlie Cockrell, Andrew Jansen, Tiny Neethling and Tiny Naude.  My self-confidence was low and I was so in awe of the big names that I probably didn’t do myself justice on the field. There was very little communication with selectors, management or coaches and when I was dropped, which happened quite regularly, the best chance of finding out why was to read AC Parker in the Cape Argus.  I continued my provincial career in Natal for five years where I was coached by Izak van Heerden, who had returned from his sojourn to Argentina.  His health was not good, but he was an outstanding coach and even today one can see his hand in the brand of rugby played by the Pumas. Natal played an exciting, expansive and intelligent game, and as an Ikey rugby player I slotted in comfortably.

Springbok squad from Van den Berg’s test debut against France on June 21, 1975. Derek is positioned third from left in the middle row, with fellow Ikey Chris Pope to his left.

I was capped for South Africa while in Natal, but returned to the WP side in 1976 and played in a superb team loaded with UCT players like Chris Pope, Peter Whipp,, Roy McCallum, Butch Deuchar and Doug Mather.  The side was captained by Morne du Plessis, it was a young team and a big responsibility but we played extremely well.  Boy Louw was still involved and remains the only selector I know who consulted his senior players regarding selection. We were unbeaten that year but lost the Currie Cup final to OFS in Bloemfontein.  Provincial rugby was a wonderful opportunity in those days to make many friends, as teams socialised after every game, even today those friendships persist.

Gavin Fernie:

Derek van den Berg is a gentleman in the true sense of the word. He is courtly, charming and friendly. He treats ladies and animals with consideration. Having a slew of children does not seem to have harmed Derek’s outlook on life. The only son I have got to know over the years, Kristin, is also a charming and well-rounded young man. He was also a good rugby player, even if he played for Stellenbosch.

Next year will be the 80th Anniversary of the greatest Springbok Touring Team of all time: Philip Nel’s mighty Springboks in New Zealand. Any of you fortunate enough to have heard and seen Michael Charton’s brilliant presentation will have an understanding of what it meant to beat the All Blacks comprehensively, in their own backyard, not just as a one off, but in a series of 3 tests as part  of a long, tough tour.

Derek went back to The Land of The Long White Cloud, with his fellow Ikeys to follow the 2011 RWC.  On my visits to New Zealand the Kiwi rugby folk (there are a few of them) always bring up the 1937 Springbok Tour. I in turn bring up the controversial 1956 Springbok Tour. We do not discuss the current Springboks beyond a mutual expression of sadness at their limp capitulation, in the sea of destructive politics and the other contributory factors dragging the once proud ‘Bokke’ down to the level it has reached in 2016. Derek was a great Ikey, a worthy Springbok, who like other outstanding UCT rugby players should, and would, have played many more tests if he had been a Matie, or dare I say it, a Broederbonder.

Derek van den Berg (left) when he was first selected for Springboks in 1974 and (right) now.

I saw Derek play for UCT, W.P and the Springboks. He was a magnificent prop, immensely strong, a very skillful ball carrier, and due to his years of playing in the ‘noble’ position of lock, he was pretty useful in the lineout. The one time I saw him, and a slew of his Springbok team mates get involved in a mass dust up was in a test match in 1975 against Les Bleu at Loftus Versfeld. The friends sitting around me, having heard me crow on ad infinitum about Derek van den Berg from the time the whistle blew for battle, gave me stick when Derek joined in the free for all, which included the unedifying spectacle of big international rugby forwards, kicking each other in the shins, like boys in a junior school playground. I muttered, ‘Well, the bloody Frogs started it!’

Derek was not only a good scrummager, he was a fine ball player. One of UCT Rugby‘s best ever. I do, however, enjoy teasing him about the less than dignified kicking that the Springboks and their opponents, the Touring French Team of 1975, engaged in during a test at Loftus. I am not talking about kicking at posts, or for touch. It was a case of ‘ek skop jou, jou Bliksem se Haan!.’ Derek recently told me that it was the dirtiest game of rugby he ever played in.

Derek is also a wonderful fellow, modest and charming. I remember many years ago when he and Gustaf Enderstein stayed with me in Johannesburg in my home (probably in 1967), when UCT were on tour in the old Transvaal, Gustaf told me that Derek quietly psyched himself up for a big game, and then, ‘oppas outjies.’ I remember Derek coming out of UCT Under 19s to play in the traditional practice during the week leading up to Intervarsity (must have been 1965) and I got the shock of my life when this young Turk rampaged through us with fire in his belly.

It is tempting to go on about Derek, but his great friend, John Le Roux, the epitome of an Ikey Tiger, and a damn fine player in his time, sums up Derek in his succinct but eloquent anecdote.

Derek himself writes eloquently and paints a compelling picture of his rugby career in a charming and modest way. That is Derek van den Berg; a great rugby player, gentleman and a true Ikey Tiger. We salute you Boffie.

John le Roux:

Derek and I have known each other since 1950 when we were in Sub A (Grade 1) at Rondebosch Boys.  We had the wonderful joy of playing the game of rugby, which we both are passionate about – at Rondebosch, in the army at Youngsfield, at UCT, for Western Province, in Southern Universities and at False Bay.  We also had many happy seasons coaching/managing UCT 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st teams.

In recent years we have gone on a few rugby tours, most notably a campervan tour to New Zealand in 2011, following the Springboks. This was a sentimental and emotional trip as Derek’s father, Mauritz, had been a star in the very successful 1937 Springbok team in New Zealand. Derek was asked to hand out the Springbok jerseys for one of the games. More recently, we watched UCT win the inaugural World Universities Rugby Competition in 2015 in Oxford.

There are few people who can be considered a more passionate Ikey supporter and lover of Ikey rugby than Derek van den Berg, and I have been truly blessed with the friendship I have enjoyed over the last 65 years, sharing a love of Ikey rugby has been a significant factor in cementing this.

2011: Derek (left) on tour of New Zealand with ‘Dave’ and ‘Gerry’.

Paul D Levy:

My memories of Derek are still so clear. As a scholar and then a student, Derek was my absolute rugby hero. I would go to Newlands simply to watch him in Ikey or WP colours. I don’t believe Derek played for the Boks at Newlands – if he did, I don’t recall this. He was the epitome of a strong, solid forward – and most colourful! He was immensely strong in upper body strength and had the bandiest of legs ever to don rugby boots. We would all wait for the first lineout of the day, but waiting even more eagerly was Derek himself – for he knew what was coming next. As usual, and without fail (unless Moaner was jumping) there would be that quick uppercut on its way from Derek. Derek loved rugby – but he loved his fists too! Thereafter, the game began for Derek – but the rules had been laid down – don’t mess with me! If Moaner was jumping, then Derek would consider the first scrum instead to deliver his goods in normal style.

2015: Derek (left) celebrating U20 Cup win with U20 Captain and Club Chair, Greg Fury.

Besides all this, Derek was a seriously good rugby player who should have been noticed and acknowledged much earlier in his career. He was versatile, he was strong, he was mobile and he could jump (and punch!). Derek invented the term GRUNT. His best position was at prop where I never saw any opponent ever get the better of him. Tried as a flank and often played as a lock, my contention is that his build was ideal at prop. He was an entertaining, tough-as-nails player –  greatly admired by all and sundry. He certainly was a firm favourite on the stands. I wish Derek well – health and happiness!

Further Reading: 

Derek van den Berg: A Springbok Legend

An article published by Sharks Rugby on Derek van den Berg.

Initially, he was known as the son of 1937 Bok legend Mauritz van den Berg, and it used to irk him a wee bit. By the time he permanently exchanged hits boots for a stethoscope, in 1976, Dr Derek van den Berg had, however, established himself as a Springbok, and Natal legend, in his own right…

Reciprocal Culture Shock: Ikeys on Tour 

An article published in Varsity Rugby Magazine, written by Derek van den Berg.

Touring was important on the UCT Rugby calendar, writes Derek van den Berg, who went on five mid-year tours and one overseas trip while at Varsity…