Hamilton Springboks & Internationals

In 1891 the first British touring team came to South Africa, referred to as the “English” team, though they were an Anglo-Scottish combination, captained by WE Maclagan, a Scot.  They won all their matches with ease and had only a single point scored against them – a try by Hasie Versfeld of Hamiltons when he played for “Cape Clubs”, the very first match played on South African soil against a touring team.  The Hamiltons members in that team were Ben Duff, John, Hasie and Marthinus Versfeld, and Bertie Heatlie, brother of the great Barry Heatlie. That year Ben Duff captained Western Province against the tourists and also played for South Africa, as a full back, against them.  The Springboks are now numbered in order of selection.  Ben Duff is Springbok Number 1.

The four Versfelds are worth a mention.  Hasie and Oupa played for South Africa in 1891. John played for Western Province.  RLO – Robert Loftus Owen Versfeld – known as Loftus, has remained the best known.  He was present at the foundation of three rugby Unions – Western Province, Eastern Province and Transvaal.  A Pretoria attorney, he was the moving spirit behind acquiring the land on which stands the ground that bears his name – Loftus Versveld in Pretoria.  He also introduced kikuyu grass to the Transvaal, which changed rugby grounds from dirt tracks to grassed fields and, as a result, had a big influence in getting schools to change from soccer to rugby.  Loftus Versfeld died watching Transvaal play at Ellis Park.

In 1891 three Hamiltons players played for South Africa – Ben Duff and Oupa Versfeld in all three tests and Hasie Versfeld in the third.  Only five South Africans played in all three tests – Duff, Oupa Versfeld, Chubb Vigne, Alf Richards and Japie Louw.  In 1896 big Paul Scott, a remarkably adventurous man, played in all four tests, including the wonderful fourth at Newlands when South Africa first wore green and won for the first time.

In 1896 nine Hamiltons players played for “Cape Town Clubs” against the British and four when Western Province drew 0-0 with them.  On that day the tourists had gone to lunch with the Prime Minister of the Cape at Groote Schuur, before wandering off to Newlands for the match.  At the lunch they had limited themselves to four tumblers of champagne – per man. The draw was the first time a South African team had not lost to a British team.  The British team played Western Province – champagne-less – later in their tour and thrashed them 32-0, to this day Western Province’s worst defeat at the hands of a touring team.

South Africa first won a test series in 1903 when the first two tests were drawn and South Africa won the third at Newlands.  Four Hamiltons players played in that series – Charles Brown, who played in all three matches, Tom Hobson, Jock Anderson and Oupa Reid.

Paul Roos’s team toured in 1907/08, the first team to be called “Springboks” – “Springbokken” as Paul Roos wanted them called in correct Dutch and to avoid any connection with jack-in-a-box.  Arthur Burmeister was on that tour, playing against a team called “France”, but by no means a French national team.  The Springboks won 55-6.

Cocky Hahn and Dick Luyt played against the 1910 British and Luyt was on the tour to the UK, Ireland and France in 1912-13, along with his brothers Fred and John and Wally Mills.  That was a great tour; South Africa’s first grand slam of victories abroad, the first of four in succession.

After World War I, for the first time South Africa played a New Zealand team in South Africa – the Imperial Services team.  This laid the foundation for the first South African tour to New Zealand in 1921, with the great Frank Mellish in the front row.  Frank Mellish is the only player to have played international rugby for two countries in the same calendar year.

In 1928 two of the greatest Hamiltons Springboks were in action – Bennie Osler and Jackie Tindall who played in all four tests against the All Blacks in a drawn series. The great Gerry Brand made his debut in that series and a fourth Hamiltons player was also capped – SP van Wyk. Osler, then playing for Villagers, Brand and Tindall were on the 1931-32 tour to Britain and Ireland. Brand and Osler were in action in the five-test series against the Wallabies in 1933, and Gerry Brand was one of the tsars of the great 1937 Springboks who broke the deadlock and won a series against the All Blacks, the first team to win a series in New Zealand.

The Lions came to South Africa in 1938 and again Gerry Brand was there.  Then came World War ii and a hiatus in rugby of all sorts. The next tour was in 1949 when the All Blacks came and Bull Bisogno and Don Duffet were in the Western Province front row.  Duffet hooked for Western Province against the 1953 Wallabies.  The Western Province team included two other Hamiltons men in the pack, the iron man Ivor Dorrington who was desperately unlucky not to make the 1956 team to New Zealand when men of iron will and bodies were needed, and Jan Pickard who had toured with the 1951-52 Springboks to Britain, Ireland and France, a great team managed by Frank Mellish.  Pickard played in two tests against the Wallabies, missed out on rugby in 1955 when the thrilling Lions were in South Africa, toured Australia and New Zealand in 1956, and played against France in 1958.

Roy Dryburgh of Hamiltons was at fullback against the Lions in 1955 and in his debut test became only the second Springbok fullback to score a test try.  That was at Newlands in the second test.  In those days fullbacks rarely scored tries.  Dryburgh then moved to Natal, toured in 1956 and captained the Springboks in two tests against the All Blacks in 1960, when Jan Pickard was still captaining Western Province.

Tours to and fro increased from 1960 onwards till isolation began to bite in the 1970s.  Scotland were the first to refuse to tour South Africa because of the race problems in South Africa.  The “demo” tours in 1969/70 to the UK and Ireland, in 1971 to Australia, and in 1981 to New Zealand and the USA were rare events and so unpleasant that they were not tried again.  The Lions came in 1980 and England in 1984.  For the rest Springbok rugby was confined to three series against the Jaguars, a South American concoction whose main ingredients were Pumas, the 1986 New Zealand Cavaliers and the World XV in 1989 for the centenary of the SARB.

Then came 1992 and the return of the Springboks to the world scene.  The test drought was broken and replaced instead by a flood.  In this period rugby football rushed willy-nilly towards professionalism, first de facto and then, from 1995 de iure.  Hamiltons were not slow in attempting to attract stars to the Club, amongst them several Springboks:

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Founded in 1875 – Hammies is the oldest Rugby club in South Africa

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