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Durban Collegians - A Club with a Proud History of Survival and Tradition

To understand and appreciate the huge impact that Durban Collegians has had on the state of the game in KwaZulu-Natal it's perhaps appropriate to start at the very beginning with that opening paragraph from the book Natal 100: The Centenary of the Natal Rugby Union, which was compiled by one of the great rugby writers of yesteryear Reg Sweet and published by the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union in 1990 marking their centenary.

The opening chapter started: "While the winter night closed in on Pietermaritzburg and the mists shrouded law abiding citizens in hazy outline as they shrugged deeper into their upturned collars of warm overcoats, it became apparent that a couple of dozen of them were converging on the old Town Office. Their business was sporting and indeed they were about to take the most important recreational decision yet contemplated in the fledging Colony of Natal."

The year of course was 1890. More precisely, it was Tuesday 24 June a date that will long be remembered as it was on this day that these worthy citizens headed up by Sir T.K. Murray had been summoned to a meeting to make a vital decision as to whether or not they should form a Rugby Union in Natal.

After much deliberation that vital decision was made and so the Natal Rugby Union was founded with Sir T.K. Murray voted in as their first President. The 24 June 1890 would become the most important date in the annals of KZN sporting history as it laid the foundation for club rugby and the game as a whole in the province.

For the next 16 years the game floundered in the young colony, but with hard working administrators at the helm in those far away days it managed to survive. Then on the 14 March 1906, which would later be described as probably one of the most important dates in the history of the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union, for it was on that day Durban Collegians was founded, and their contribution to the game in the province was to achieve prodigious proportions in the years ahead.

It was on a typical autumn morning in the small coastal town of Durban that a group of businessmen got together for a quiet breakfast meeting at the Princes Café, reportedly situated in Smith Street not far from where the Royal Hotel stands today. A certain Mr. Addison chaired the meeting with Mssrs. A. McWilliam, G.W. Young, B. Stewart, Dan Taylor, G.C. Cowie, J. Watt, and H. Sparks presiding.

Their meeting too was of sporting matters as they, without realizing it, were about to form what was to become the most influential rugby club in KZN. So it was on that fresh autumn morning the Old Collegians Rugby Club was born with their initial objective of encouraging any person who played the game and had passed through any College or public school to join their ranks.

It was the beginning of the remarkable story of Durban Collegians, which it must be said, had a few rocky and uneasy moments in their opening chapters. They ran headlong into trouble right from the outset, which was no fault of theirs, but simply due to the loss of personal volunteering for military duty in the hinterland during the Zulu uprising. It was without doubt the start of one of their great traditions-that of survival brought on by a strong sense loyalty and duty to the Old Collegians cause.

Little did they realize in those early years that they had laid the foundation for something that would stand them good stead throughout their history. They went on to survive through the two great wars emerging an even stronger force such was the club's pride in maintaining the high standards they had set themselves.

They were soon to make their presence felt by winning the Murray Challenge Cup in 1907 after only one year in existence and amidst all their early days of trials and tribulations making it quite the most incredible achievement. It was a special moment for them and they now believed that they were on track for bigger things. They didn't realize at the time just how well they would do in the following years that turned them into statistically the most successful club in the history of KZN Club Rugby.

It would take another six years before the Old Collegians name would be engraved on the priceless piece silverware and in 1912 they emerged as the champion club once again. They took the honors once again in 1914 the year before the start of the First Great War (1915-1919). Those were the dark years for club rugby but Collegians were to return rejuvenated as they entered a hugely successful era.

In 1920 the first year after the war, Kokstad the oldest club in the province, were to win the Murray Cup for their first and only time before Old Collegians reappeared as the dominant force in KZN yet again. Indeed the early twenties were described as their first golden era for it was during this period that they produced their first batch of Springbok rugby players including their first true legend Wally Clarkson.

Clarkson made his debut for South Africa in 1921 along with Taffy Townsend and 'L.B.' Siedle. It wasn't surprising therefore to see Collegians dominating proceedings and winning club rugby's most prized cup for three years in a row securing the league in 1922-23 and 24. They finished as runners up in 1925 behind their oldest rivals Durban Rovers but had yet again produced another great Springbok who was to become one of the great characters of the game. He was Bill Payn.

Payne made his debut for South Africa in 1924 and made a huge impact on the game in the province. Big in stature and in heart he once ran the Comrades Marathon in his rugby boots. Known as Bill Payn the Unconquerable his outlook to life and the old adage he always believed in-"Life is always life if one can laugh" would stand him in good stead as a POW during the Second Great War.

A respected mentor at Durban High School of boys in their hundreds his great character rubbed off on them as well as the members of his beloved club Old Collegians. Amazingly another great Collegian was to join him as a POW in Germany. His name was Isaac van Heerden who was later to become one of the greatest Natal Rugby coaches the province ever produced.

After winning the Murray Cup again in 1926 they would become the club of the twenties but had to wait another eight years before recapturing the title in 1934. Then came an era, which included the war years (1941-1945) that can be best described as their worst period of their existence. It took another 19 years before they came out trumps once again in 1956 and it was, more importantly as Durban Collegians, on the eve of their second golden era.

In 1957 the Moor Cup was reintroduced after the famous trophy had gone missing for some 81 years. Incredibly the cup, which had been presented by George Moor, was first played for in 1875 by the Colonials and home grown sides. Moor had apparently played in a one of these games for the Colonials and became the custodian of now the oldest rugby cup on the African continent. He had left the cup in Kimberley when traveling to the coast to recuperate after suffering ill health from the rigors of diamond digging.

What ever happened to the cup during the intervening years will remain forever a mystery but more importantly the Moor Cup was played for the first time in 1957 and won by Durban Varsity from then on it was predominately won by Durban Collegians as they entered into a truly golden era.

The Murray Cup became better known as a knockout competition and in 1958 commercial history was made when the South African Breweries sponsored the event and so the SAB Murray Cup Knockout competition was born, and needless to say it was to be won by Durban Collegians in its first year of inception.

So it was in 1958 Durban c Collegians were to become the first ever club in KZN history to win the double taking home the Moor Cup and the Murray Cup. From 1957 to 1990 they were to win the double on no less than 12 occasions. During the same period they won the Moor Cup 19 times and took the Murray Cup honors on 12 occasions.

It was during this era that they produced a new batch of Springbok greats including two captains in Tommy Bedford and Wynand Claassen who were both true students of rugby and were to become hugely influential in the progress of the game in Natal during their time.

Bedford made his debut for the Springboks as a young student studying architecture at Durban University before joining Collegians, while Claassen also an architect arrived from the Blue Bulls to join Natal. Both went on to captain Natal with great distinction as well.

To name the great players that came through their ranks during this golden era would too many to list but the Springboks that came out of their club does make impressive reading with Bedford and Claassen heading up the honors list. There was the prince of fly halves Keith Oxlee who is sill regarded by many as one of the best half backs of all time. Oxlee made his debut in 1960 with Trix Truter following three years later in 1963. Of course Truter a true country boy from Ladysmith was one of the most exciting wing three quarters in his day and every ones favorite when Natal were playing at Kings Park now Absa Stadium.

Ormond Taylor who had become a Springbok out of Maritzburg Collegians in 1962 also had a spell with the club. Snowy Suter followed next, representing South Africa for the first time in 1965. Regarded by many as being one of the most underrated loose forwards in his day he was a solid grafter who perhaps deserved more caps for his country. His contribution to the Natal cause never the less was immense having represented his province on 62 occasions.

Johan 'Klippies' Kritzinger who also spent time with Collegians in the early seventies also went on to play for the 'Boks' and will long be remembered for his larger than life presence on the field.

Then of course no Collegians story would be complete without a paragraph or two on the legendary medical rugby guru Doc Sweiden but these are the stories that will follow in the later chapters of this historic brochure. Doc and his son Gerald will always have a very special place in the annals of Collegians rugby. They were truly great rugby men for club, province and country.

The next generation arrived in the eighties during the reign of King Claassen with Gawie Visagie (81) and Tim Cocks (80) two of arguably the most gifted players ever to wear the Collegians strip. Gawie Visagie was a product of Griqualand West and with his brother Piet registered on a list of names that makes up a very elite band of brothers who have worn the Springbok jersey. Timothy Maxwell Cocks was educated at Westville Boys High and like Visagie was comfortable playing in most positions in the backline. These two Collegians stalwarts were always a pleasure to watch when weaving their magic on the park.

It was an era when many other members were also chosen for higher honors in the game. Keith Oxlee's long time half back partner Garth Williamson was chosen for the Junior Springboks in 1960. Brian Irvine who was later to become one of the truly great administrators of the game also represented the Junior Boks in 1960 and went on to captain them in 1965. Irvine was also to emerge as one of the great leaders of Natal as well.

Keith Thoresson who also played for the Blue Bulls under the legendary Thys Louwrens and became the darling of Loftus Versfeld also represented the Junior Springboks in 1974. This immaculate runner was undoubtedly one of the great wings of Durban Collegians and Natal, and one will long remember his four superlative tries against Italy on that memorable winter afternoon of 30 June at Kings Park in 1974.

There was another group of players during this time that deserve recognition as well for they were perhaps the unluckiest men not to have worn the green and gold. They were the Gazelles and included Rex Greyling, Julien Bennett, Malcolm 'Silent' Swanby and Brian Borgen. Greyling a product of Hilton College was one of the finest all round schoolboy sportsmen ever produced in Natal and represented Natal Schools at rugby, cricket, hockey and athletics. He was also a superb tennis player and golfer who loved fishing. Luckily for Collegians his first love was rugby as he went on to play 51 games at centre for the province before a knee injury put paid to his career.

Bennett the father of Springbok fullback Russell Bennett was also one of the most powerful provincial mid fielders in his day and was as deadly on attack as he was in defending.

Swanby who played 80 games for Natal was one of the most exciting runners with the ball. A full back built like a Centurion Tank he could cause more than just a few headaches for the opposition when he joined the line. His driving runs will long be remembered and he too was one of the Kings Park all time favorites.

Borgen was a product of Westville Boys High and although ending his career at Rovers was an accomplished scrum half at Collegians to start with, but sadly played the game in an era when Natal had more than just an adequate supply at their disposal.

There was Stan Holms and Ian McKay of Collegians, Poenie Holm a schoolmaster from Hilton College playing for Maritzburg Collegians, Dickie Delport of Glenwood Old Boys together with Garth Giles based at Rovers followed later by Dave Zietsman of Durban University. With that list of names it certainly was an unforgettable age for scrum halves in the history of rugby in KZN.

It was an era that many great administrators that had served the club game emerged to make a lasting impression on the club game and Natal. It was however the late Ernest 'Dream' Sanders who was the first administrator to really make his mark. He had been one of the clubs great pre war captains and was sadly laid low after being injured during the Second World War sadly never to play the game again. Being a true rugby man he turned his attention to administrating the game.

Other great men to follow in the Sanders mould were Basil Medway, the late Brian Irvine and in more recent times Keith Parkinson who also became Vice President of Saru. The latest Collegian who is still serving the game at an administrative level is Brian 'B.J.' van Zyl the current CEO of the Sharks (Pty) Ltd., who also played for and captained Natal.

Collegians was also to become the first Natal club to participate at the National Club Championships and were at the inaugural Olympic Toyota Easter Club Championship in 1975, which later became one of the most popular and sort after club tournaments on the South African rugby calendar, which always heralded in the new season each year.

They played in the final against Stellenbosch that year narrowly losing 28-22 to the mighty 'Maties' who have subsequently won the title more times than any other club in the country. It is for however appropriate for Collegians to congratulate them and Villagers on their 130th anniversary this year.

The club entered into the nineties surviving all their lean years and at the end of it all, still remain to this day, the only club that never played in a promotion relegation match, always finishing midway on the local log table at worst. They have achieved more than any other club in the province having produced more provincial players for their union and adding to which winning most of the KZNRU silverware on offer on more occasions than all their opposition.

The nineties also introduced the next batch of Springboks, which included Wayne Fyvie, Ollie Le Roux, Hentie Martens and Philip Smit with Dean Hall a 'Bok' from the Lions joining their ranks more recently last year. Then of course there was also Dieter Kriese who represented South Africa at Sevens.

We could go on and on with the accolades but for now we will focus on their celebrations and embrace their achievements and reserve the remaining pages of this Centenary Brochure for the many legends that have passed through their ranks over the years.

We could talk forever of the many great characters and players who have donned the famous Durban Collegians strip like Kevin 'Tubby' Hanneford, Rob 'Rooster' Hankinson, Keith Oxlees son Grant, 'Tarz' Bosch, John 'Nartjie' Nortier, the man they call Russian, Trix Truters boy Morne, Barry 'Bucky' Buchanan, John 'Wowie' Plater, Tony Jelinski, Mike Siba, Gary Meyer, Henning Swanepoel, Ernie du Plessis, Norman McIntyre, the Egner family, Jeb McIntosh, Ian 'Lizard' Lizinski, Gary Rodwell, Danie Louwrens, Duncan Skewis, the late Owen McGrath and of course many, many more. The list goes on forever and none will be forgotten.

These gentlemen are and will remain forever part of their proud history and as the late great Natal captain Peter Taylor once said after beating his neighbors, "When you beat Collegians cherish the moment for it wont happen too often," such was the nature of the game and the spirit in which the club rugby was played in those days.

It has been a huge privilege being part of this wonderful moment in club rugby history and perhaps them winning the McCarthy Toyota Premier Division against all odds on the eve of their 100th birthday was a good omen. So we wish them many more years of success as we raise our glasses to 100 years of rugby football excellence at Durban Collegians.