‘Genuine man of rugby’ Robbie Savage dies of cancer

2009-01-06 00:00

ROBBIE Savage, one of the smallest but bravest of Natal’s rugby players, died at the weekend after a long battle with cancer. He will be buried in Umhlanga tomorrow.

Savage, in the words of former Springbok and Natal coach Ian McIntosh, was a “genuine man of rugby, humble, kind and always friendly”.

He served the game in KZN as a player, coach, selector and administrator and did so with a smile on his face. He was also in constant contact with thousands of rugby players as he served as a liaison officer in Durban with the stream of visiting international and provincial teams for the last 16 years of his life.

“I don’t know how many times it happened,” says McIntosh. “I would bump into some rugby guy overseas, tell him I was from Durban and then we would talk about Robbie Savage. He was known throughout the rugby world.”

Savage played for Natal at centre from 1959 to 1964 and was capped 38 times (at a time when provincial action was restricted to 10 games in a season).

It was arguably the most exciting years of Natal rugby history, but unfortunately coincided exactly with a time (1960 to 1963) when the Currie Cup was not up for grabs. Natal lost just one game in 1961, but were voted South Africa’s team of the year, and in 1963 they were unbeaten in 10 games, and downed the touring Wallabies 14-13 in Durban. But their most famous moment came in 1960 when they drew 6-6 with the All Blacks (Colin Meads, Don Clarke et al).

But it was their style that captured the imagination. With a tiny but lively pack and the most adventurous and skilful of backs, they thrilled and entertained with a high tempo, expansive brand of rugby.

Their legendary coach Izak van Heerden set the mood off the field with Keith Oxlee, in his pomp, pulling the strings at flyhalf.

And Robbie Savage, at centre, epitomised this refreshing new approach, one built on courage and spirit, both in attack and defence.

Savage, a fierce tackler, was ridiculously small to be playing rugby at that level and with that intensity. He stood as tall as the cornerflag, for goodness’ sake, and weighed some 60 kg, which is a whopping 20 kg less than Brent Russell, who is considered too small for the modern game.

Savage was a loyal club man and played for DHS Old Boys for 14 years. He served on the Natal Rugby Union council for 27 years and was a vice-president for 24, while also selecting Natal teams from 1975 to 1979.

The funeral service will take place at The Grace Family Church in Umhlanga tomorrow at 3 pm.

Robbie, who was in his late seventies when he died, leaves Jane, his wife of 59 years, three children (Carmen, Tony and Di) and a host of warm memories.

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