THE MATATIELE RUGBY CLUB - THE GEM OF EAST GRIQUALAND WHERE LEGENDS WERE BORN
The Matatiele Rugby Club, the third oldest club in KwaZulu-Natal celebrated their centenary in September 2001 and what a memorable occasion it was, complete with a provincial under 21 friendly match being played between KZN and the Free State Cheetahs to mark a truly historic moment in country districts rugby.
The club was founded in 1901 on a cold late September evening. It had been a particularly harsh winter that year but as the spring set in, the friendly folk of the picturesque East Griqualand community gathered together to finalise what was to become one of the most important social decisions of the then decade.
Rugby at the time was one of the fastest growing sports and Matatiele's neighbours Kokstad had already been up and running for 11 years. It wasn't surprising therefore that a unanimous decision was made to form the club, which also began discussions that would ultimately lead to the formation of what is now the Southern Districts Sub-Union.
Matat, as they are more affectionately known, have a long and proud history and their grounds were first situated between the current railway station and the town cemetery. Those tough-as-teak country folk had to play on a field of 'Mtjike' grass and literally bare veld. Those pioneers of the Matatiele Rugby Club were quite obviously made of sturdy stuff as they prepared themselves every week for battle.
It wasn't surprising therefore that the club amidst all their tough battles and harsh playing conditions produced some remarkable players that went on to play for the province in the early years, none more so than Ian McDonald and Hilton Rawlins.
McDonald who was a product of Maritzburg College represented KZN from 1919 to 1924 and is reported to have been chosen to play for the province with the legendary former Springbok captain Philip Nel as school boys. Needless to say both he and Nel declined the offer as College were scheduled to play 'the horseflies' of Durban High School that same weekend.
The KZN Rugby Union were not too enamoured with the two youngsters and suspended them for a game, but reliable reports do highlight the fact that College scraped home to win the derby between the two great schools.
In 1930's the club began training on the school grounds and later sadly lost the availability of the show grounds during the Second Great War. It was around that time that they moved to a site near the airstrip, which was situated opposite the sewerage farm. For quite obvious reasons the club had to relocate and moved nearer to the Country Club remaining there up until 2000.
'Matat' have fielded some great sides over the years their best probably being the class of 1949. It was unquestionably a golden year for them making it to the final of the Murray Cup knockout competition going down by the narrowest of margins to Durban Wanderers. They did go on however to take home the bulk of the silverware in their county district leagues winning the Darkie Davies Cup, the Johnny Walker Cup, the Usher Cup and the Van Heerden Trophy.
Added to that impressive haul the class of 49 also won the Southern Districts League together with the annual Southern Districts Rugby Tournament making it their most memorable year up until that date.
Like all clubs they have experienced some lean years and quite honestly one has to be realistic for as much as history tells us how rugby flourished in the outlying areas in days gone by, the professional game in the modern era has somehow destroyed the very heart of the sport. With all that however they have somehow managed to survive-but only just and that is sad.
Their centenary year was a huge success by all accounts and they deservedly won some silverware that season. They have a superb new home at King Edward Park, which will hopefully revitalise the game in their area. Certainly with great names besides Hilton Rawlins and McDonald, who administered the game and represented Natal such as Graham King, Kosie Cilliers, Winston Rawlins, Springbok trialist Monty Udelman, former 'Bok' centre and current Sharks coach Dick Muir, Ian Rawlins and a host of others who served the game with distinction, the boys from East Griqualand deserve another 100 years of rugby history.