Playing rugby with Bas was unforgettable. The scrum collapsed on a muddy Newlands. As we stood, the ref, Dr Katz, looked at Basil’s mud splattered face and eyes. “Can you see OK he enquired?” “Well enough to see you, you ugly bastard”, replied Basil.
In those early days, 1968-70, our scrummaging was poor. It drove our coach, Boon Boonzaier, mad. He was an ex WP prop and hurled insults at us on the practice field. You are useless, soft – he then told us that he would show us and took his place in the 2nd XV pack. Boon was well into his 70’s and had recently had a heart attack. Basil and I looked at each other – what should we do? “For God’s sake” Basil said, “don’t kill him!”
They still talk about what happened at the old German Fort Pub in Windhoek. Above the bar was a camelthorn log suspended horizontally about 10 feet up. The place was packed and one local told Bas that he would receive free beers if he could somehow climb up and sit on the log. No one noticed how he did it, but no one will ever forget Basil sitting on the log drinking free beers for the rest of the night. “What on earth were you doing”, I asked? He replied: “I don’t have to speak to anyone up here.”
I arranged for the Bishops team to visit Westminster Palace – the House of Lords and the Commons. Basil hated this kind of thing. Nevertheless, he joined us, but after half an hour or so, I noticed that he was missing. I asked my brother, who had arranged the visit, whether there was a bar – he pointed to one just next to the House of Lords. Basil was there of course, drinking with two Bishops ODs, which when you think about it was very appropriate.
A Master Tactician
In 1969 I had a really good U/16 side. Our first match was against Plumstead so we expected an easy victory. We lost by 15 (five tries) to 18 (six penalties). I was invited to meet their coach (Basil) and when I finally found his house, he was drinking beers at a furious rate with the referee. Basil found this very funny and told me that these two U/16 sides were the best in the Cape. As it turned out, neither team lost a match, so I challenged Basil’s team to a one-off at Bishops with my referee (Dobson). We lost 28-6!
This was the same Plumstead side that went on to beat Bishops lst XV the following year (Calmeyer was Captain).
Basil and the Beautiful Game of Rugby
He was in the bar at Heathrow on his tenth beer or so when it was announced that the plane on which we were all booked had just taken off!
One of our players (Russell Nelson) was caught smoking within an hour of arriving at Haileybury in the UK. The school was horrified when Basil asked them to leave it with him. He promptly found a suitable tree, cut off a branch and gave Nelson a hiding. Beating had been banned for years. The word spread around Haileybury that the Bishops coach had no hesitation in beating his players – he was called a sadistic bully. They were astounded to see Nelson run onto the field a few hours later with evidence of his punishment on his legs! He was also smiling and clearly quite content. We won by many points.
Basil’s ingenious and innovative methods, designed to overcome problems, became his hallmark – his genius. Simply summarized it was all about upsetting their pattern, their comfort zone and then counter attacking. Some of Basil’s most famous ploys included:
- the three, four and five-man scrum
- wheeling the four-man scrum
- the quick put in – we often collapsed the scrum and as we reset the ball was put in. Attack continued using the four or five forwards who were not scrumming.
- we called for short lineouts and arrived with a full pack
- we called for a short lineout, sometimes as few as two, but more often four or five. As the opposition fell away we threw in.
- At kick off – kick deep on the full back. Put him under intense pressure causing him to kick for touch. We arrived with four forwards and immediately threw in – they were offside (too many forwards), penalty, three points in the bag.
- If we ever kicked it was more often or not Butch Watson-Smith at outside centre. He and Bas invented the so called ‘exit plan.’
A typical training evening was about an hour of touch rugby. Thereafter backs and forwards separated; lineouts with all the variations (did Mike English ever throw a skew ball!?), scrumming, to practice quick put ins, back row moves. In the bar afterwards – much drinking. Sometimes just talk, tactics, weakness of opposition and singing with Don Campbell at the piano, how Basil LOVED that. Individuals would spend hours on their own skills (Did Otto ever miss a kick!?). Back line moves with Richard Nurse. Gus always took himself off for personal training, especially sprinting! There was no faster prop in the Western cape.
Has there ever been a man so passionate about rugby?
The only time I ever witnessed or heard Basil being criticized was when the Bishops parents complained that not enough was done for their boys on overseas tours. They told him that when Rondebosch, SACS, Wynberg go on tour, their coaches took them to various famous tourist attractions – Tower of London, Madam Tussauds and St Paul’s Cathedral, for example. Basil merely expected the boys to play touch rugby, or if the weather was poor go somewhere with their parents. A new Head of Bishops supported the parents and told Basil to take more responsibility. The following year, Basil assured me that all was under control and that he had organized a number of trips and visits to famous places.
A new Head arrived at Bishops from Eton. He told his Housemasters at the beginning of the year that they should meet all new parents and their sons, and provide them with refreshments, adding that he would drop in and see how it was going. All went according to plan at Founders and White House, but when he arrived at School House nothing was happening. He then saw the notice stuck on Basil’s door. It read:
“Should you wish to discuss your son with me, you will find me at Olympics Sports Club, next to Rondebosch Station. Sorry, men only.”