Varsity Rugby has Played a Huge Role in The Game in KZN with Memorable Moments of Glory, Sometimes Against All Odds
The Maritzburg Varsity Rugby Club who affectionately became known as the WHITES were to first make an impression on the local scene in the winter of 1913 when they narrowly lost to Berea Rovers in the final of the Murray Cup, but to really trace the history we should go back a few years before that.
The club as we know it today was founded in March of 1911, although there are reports that indicate the game had been played on both campuses some time before that. Originally known as the Natal University Rugby Club, ‘the Whites’ would end up making a huge contribution to the game, producing some truly great rugby players and more importantly many legendary administrators who would all leave an indelible mark on rugby football in KwaZulu Natal.
The extension of the Varsity College to include the Durban Campus followed some months later and the decision for the universities to play as separate clubs in the then Natal leagues was taken almost with immediate effect. It would be the start of what would become the always much awaited annual show down between the two clubs during Rag Week. The build up to the big game during those unforgettable weeks were always something to behold with the local communities and rugby fraternity all chomping at the bit as the big day approached - the rivalry was special and the games produced some memorable moments. Sadly those days are long gone.
One can vividly recall the students of yesteryear chanting at the top of there voices as the brown liquid freely flowed at the games. Then that famous war cry sung to the tune of When the Saints go marching in - “Oh when the Whites go marching in I want to be in that number Oh when the Whites - Oh when the Whites oh when the Whites go marching in………..”
Sadly in modern times we don’t experience those spirited student rugby days that often produced some mesmerising clashes that were so closely contested in the true spirit the game.
Maritzburg Varsity won the Murray Cup in 1930 and the Moor Cup in 1962, two golden periods in their wonderful history that will long be remembered. Certainly student rugby was really strong in those days but tragically nowadays it all seems to have gone backwards with very little or no support. One questions the logic of it all with the institutions in the other provinces still all being so strong and viable for the betterment of the game we are supposed to hold dear.
In 1988 under the guidance of Springbok captain Wynand Claassen Durban Varsity won the Moor Cup for the second time. Their name had first appeared on the priceless piece of silverware for the first time in 1957 but sadly they never ever got the opportunity of having their name engraved on the Murray Cup. The universities have never the less produced some well known rugby players and administrators who have done their alma mate’s proud none more so than one Thomas Bedford who made his debut for South Africa out of Durban Varsity against John Thornett’s1963 Wallabies at Loftus Versveld 13 July 1963.
Others to have worn the university strips with pride are (from Maritzburg Varsity) Basil Medway a former Natal Rugby Union President who served the game with distinction, the legendary Natal coach Isak van Heerden and Maurice Smithers one of the founder members of Duikers and Barbarians rugby, Natal players Doc Louw, Danny Delport, Seaweed McFarlane, Craig Jamieson, Tich Smith, Alan Faber, Pierre de Lange, David Polkinghorn (an Oxford Blue), Pete Smith, Dave Pearse, Gary Teichmann, Mark Andrews, John Smit and countless more. Henno Mentz (pictured) is a current Sharks player, who has also played for the Springboks, registered with Maritzburg Varsity.
Then from Durban Varsity there was Springbok wing Michael ‘Musch’ Antelme, the legendary Balfe Laing, Joel Stransky, Tony Watson, Guy Kebble, Mark McKenzie, Ross Cooper, the late Sean Gage, Rob Ferguson, Bobby Moore, Lou Corbi, Bruce Robertson, Timmy Tindall, Brett Lambert, Johnathan Roach, Errol Stewart, Derek La Marque, Alan Huer, Ronnie Pitcher, Andrew Aitken who later became a Springbok in Western Province, Gavin Kretschmar and countless others.
We shouldn’t forget the other great administrators either like Prof Maarsdorp, Poenie Holm, Hector McDuling, Prof Peter de V Booysen and Cocky Crossley who all helped serve the game and should long be remembered for their services.
Indeed the Varsity legacy will live on in time as there can be no doubt that their contribution to rugby in KZN has been immeasurable-long may the spirit of student rugby live on.