Varsity Rugby

They will arrive in their hundreds, a mix of paunchy old- timers and sprightly youth but all united in their determination to celebrate Varsity Rugby Club’s 100th birthday bash in style.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is hosting a gala banquet at Peter Booysen Park (in Golf Road) next Friday in what is the culmination of the Varsity Rugby centenary celebrations. And the positive response from Natal University and KZNU alumni from across the world has been remarkable.

More than 600 past and present Varsity players will attend the function, including some 30 who will travel from overseas and many more from surrounding African countries.

Some 60 tables, seating 10 to 12 guests, have already been booked as old students have linked up with former team-mates and coaches.

Among the guests will be three former Springbok captains, all number eights, Tom Bedford, Wynand Claassen and Gary Teichmann, and two other Test players, wing Mike Antelme, travelling from Zimbabwe, and lock Mark Andrews, who is returning early from a business trip to China.

Current Bok captain, hooker John Smit, who started his club rugby career at Maritzburg Varsity, has sent his apologies, citing a game of rugby against Australia in Durban the next day as the reason.

Former Rhodesian wing Frank Youngleson is flying in from Australia, USA Veterans scrumhalf Charlie Tyack is arriving from Texas and old Natal flank Graham Hefer is making his way from Nigeria for the event.

Bedford, travelling from the UK, Test referee Craig Joubert, successful 1970s Varsity coach Jimmy de Jager, who will arrive from Cape Town, and Claassen will be on a guest panel with former Natal cricketer and rugby player Dave Pease acting as stage director and trying to keep the show on the straight and narrow.

Rugby at Maritzburg Varsity took its first tottering steps in 1911 and in 1928 was officially introduced to the five-year-old Durban campus. Famous names, among them many internationals and scores of provincial players, have worn the colours of Maritzburg and Durban Varsity and, occasionally those of combined Natal University.

There were the early Springboks, Bertram Vanderplank and legendary Comrades Marathon runner Bill Payn, and acclaimed coaches Izak van Heerden and Skonk Nicholson. And there were those, like Craig Jamieson, who led Natal to their first Currie Cup title in 1990, and 1995 World Cup match-winner Joel Stransky, who made history.

It is hoped that York & Lancaster Cup derby match between the University and Maritzburg Collegians at Peter Booysen Park (5pm) will provide a fitting curtain-raiser to the banquet in the adjacent marquee but this fixture has still to be confirmed.

It will be long evening of nostalgia and anecdote, a test of memory and stamina, one of those nights to remember.

Over 600 tickets have already been sold but there is still limited availability. Tickets (R3 950 per table of 10) can be arranged through / .