Lessons from All Black Rugby Culture

I remember vividly when the 1963 Junior Touring Team to the Northern OFS was announced. I was both surprised and excited at being chosen.

When I arrived at UCT in February from two years adventure in Rhodesia (as it was), everything was new: South Africa, Cape Town and UCT itself. I knew no one and everything was quite imposing and somewhat daunting, after both Rhodesia and the southern half of New Zealand!

Despite my having played and shown promise in rugby in NZ I hadn’t played for the last two years and was totally unfit and lacking in confidence. I initially even tried my hand at rowing at UCT but the intense cold of Zeokou Vlei (sp!) quickly converted me back to rugby; I was not a rower!

Preparations, training and the train trip and suddenly we were in the northern Free State. I was very much the new boy on the block, a Kiwi, an unknown quantity both on and off the field, and hopelessly uni lingual! This part of the country was not known for being Anglophile! Northern OFS was probably the least scenic part of the province; flat, few trees with huge mine dumps providing the only relief.

But the people, both fellow Ikeys and our hosts were fantastic. Welcoming, hospitable and with rugby of course top of mind; so being a Kiwi I always attracted friendly banter.

But on the field it was quite a different story. No quarter was given, or expected, and we were treated as foreign invaders from a different culture, probably soft at that! But while we didn’t come away as champions, we gave as good as we got.

Ably led, the team welded into a cohesive unit which earned the respect of the locals. A great camaraderie built up, the singing I remember well was appreciated by all and we won our share of games, at times unexpectedly. Even the local girls became noticeably more friendly, homes opened up to us and we were even taken on an underground tour of one of the larger gold mines.

I was also lucky enough to be chosen for the Senior Tour to Natal in a later year and again a similar pattern emerged. The Ikey tours in the 1960’s at least, were wonderful fun, great for the development of a strong supportive rugby culture within the club, and probably good for the overall reputation of UCT. Great memories, even if faded somewhat by the years!

Article by Tim Saunders