As the 19th Century drew to a close, sport began to be organised between countries, and with it grew an increasing number of sportsmen proficient in more than one code who were capped as double internationals or even triple.
However, in those early years there were set months for cricket during the summer while sports such as soccer and rugby were played during the winter, making it easier for the talented to play more than one sport.
Once SA had tasted the joys and agonies of Test cricket in 1889, five players — Percy Twentyman-Jones, A H “Biddy” Anderson, Albert Powell, Alfred Richards and Jimmy Sinclair — represented SA at cricket as well as rugby union.
Richards captained SA in only one cricket Test, later captaining SA at rugby and for good measure, also refereeing a couple of rugby Tests.
However, the most successful of the five was all-rounder Sinclair, who scored SA’s first three Test centuries — one in 80 minutes — and always batted at a furious pace, finishing up with 1,069 runs and 63 wickets in 25 Test matches between 1896 and 1911.
He also played one rugby Test for the Springboks and one soccer international.
Sinclair scored a triple-century in a Transvaal club match and also laid claim to the longest six ever hit. He smashed a ball over the boundary at the Old Wanderers ground in Johannesburg near the railway line and it was found two days later in a goods train in Cape Town, about 1,500km away.
During the period just prior to World War I, Percy Sherwell became a triple-international, skippering SA at cricket on two overseas tours, scoring a century at Lord’s in 1907, and representing SA later at soccer and tennis.
Three other players — Frank Mitchell, Frank Hearne and Reggie Schwarz, who were all born in England — represented England at rugby and SA at cricket, while Border’s Gerald Hartigan played five cricket Tests and six soccer internationals for SA.
Between the two world wars, two outstanding sportsmen made names for themselves.
At the age of 20, Harold “Tuppy” Owen-Smih scored a century before lunch against England at Leeds in 1929 — a rare feat at Test level — adding 103 for the last wicket with Sandy Bell, a record for SA that stood for 81 years.
At Oxford University, he obtained blues for cricket and rugby and also represented the university as a lightweight boxer and athlete. He also captained England at rugby as fullback.
Tony Harris was a most precocious talent for Griqualand West. As a schoolboy he played rugby, cricket, soccer, squash, golf and tennis at a high level. At 12 he captured the Griqualand West junior tennis championship and while still at school, he played Currie Cup cricket, scoring a century on his first-class debut against Orange Free State in 1933.
In 1937, at the age of 21, Harris was in the Springbok rugby team on tour to Australia and New Zealand where at flyhalf, he partnered with the dive-passsing Danie Craven to great success in two Tests, helping the team become the first Springbok side to win a series in New Zealand.
After a remarkable stint as a fighter polit during World War 2, Harris gained national colours at cricket as a member of Alan Melville’s 1947 touring team in England.
Possibly SA’s greatest all-round sportsman is William “Buster” Farrer, who gained Border colours in six different sports — cricket, hockey, golf, squash, badminton and bowls —– and gained international colours at cricket and hockey.
Farrer was also a keen long-distance runner and completed the Comrades Marathon one year, running with old cricket teammate Peter Pollock. Now 83, he lives in Gonubie.