FIVE or six years ago I had the privilege of meeting one of nature’s gentlemen – a man for whom I have the greatest respect and who has since become one of my dearest friends. His name is Eric van der Vyver, a former Cambridge, Swifts and Border rugby captain.
Eric, a prodigy of former Springbok captain Basil Kenyon, is now 82, and we get together on the odd occasion to reflect on the state of the world and things like the game of rugby.
Last Monday morning Eric rang me to say that he was thoroughly enjoying the book I had lent him on the life and times of Tony Greig, partly authored by his mother, Joyce, who died recently in East London at the age of 98.
Eric mentioned in passing that he had picked up a bad dose of diarrhoea which, in his typically whimsical manner, he put down to watching the first-half display of the Springboks in their return match against the Pumas (in Argentina).
He added that after watching the All Blacks-Aussie match earlier in the day, he really didn’t care if he never saw another rugby match in his life. That, he said, was the way the game should be played – hard, fast, full of flair and inventiveness and in the right spirit.
He was sick and tired, he said, of the punching, kicking, biting, gouging and foul tactics that had been so prevalent in local rugby over the years.
Eric is right of course. In New Zealand, rugby at all levels of the game is played hard with good grace and when the match is over, the players join with their families for a post-match drink, as opposed to here in South Africa when only the “manne” get together for a pint.
Over the past 50 years I have reported on countless rugby matches and boy, have I seen some serious misdemeanours! I remember once covering a local club match when the game was stopped to wait for two players to return to the playing field after one of the locks had chased an opposing player to the top of the grandstand to “moer” him for biting!
Talking of Eric though, I remember taking over the editorship of The Rep in Queenstown some 30-odd years ago now and thinking it would be a good idea to compile a “best-ever” Swifts side over the past 25 years. I did a lot of research, selected my team, and made Eric van der Vyver captain and flank.
Well, next day the phone never stopped ringing.
Led by Sandy Greig (father of Tony), from whom I had taken over the editorship), they castigated me in no uncertain terms, not least for putting the best lock forward on the Border on the flank! Talk about nearly being tarred and feathered and run out of town!
You don’t mess with platteland rugby!