Duane Heath

Lucky Bok, unlucky Bok

2004-10-29 07:59

"The selection will long reek in the nostrils of every true South African."

Who did you think of when you read these words? Ettienne Botha? Gary Botha, perhaps?

The sentence that opened this column, believe it or not, was written not last Saturday evening but 73 years ago and printed in the now defunct Bloemfontein daily The Friend.

The writer's reason for dipping his pen deep into the poison was because of his shock at one of the names read out during the announcement of the 1931/32 Springbok touring team to the United Kingdom.

"It is provincialism, nay Stellenboschism!" trumpeted the scribe of the left-field selection of an unknown scrumhalf who had yet to turn out for Western Province.

That man was of course none other than Danie Craven, and the reaction that followed his selection was no less heated than it was this week when everyone was still trying to pronounce, let alone digest, Jongi Nokwe and Tim Dlulane.

But then nothing changes in life - and South African rugby.

More than sixty years after bolting in from left field, 'Doc' spoke of his selection in The Craven Tapes, recorded shortly before his death and published in 1995.

"It is actually much worse being dropped from a Springbok team once you've made it than not being selected," Doc said, in answer to a question about the men he thought had been truly unlucky not to have played for South Africa, thanks to an untimely injury, personal tragedy, or just plain bad luck.

Leon Barnard was selected against the Wallabies in 1933, developed a boil on the eve of the match, put the team above himself and withdrew - only to never get another chance.

Gavin Cowley, now one of our leading commentators, spent his career sidestepping in the long shadow of Gerald Bosch.

Craven spoke about these and other men for whom the green and gold would remain a dream - and then he mentioned Pinky Hill.

Hill, a scrumhalf in the Craven mould, moved to Cape Town from the northern Free State town of Kroonstad during the 1920s. He played for UCT and for Western Province, and seemed destined to go on the 1931/32 Grand Slam tour.

But the name Pinky Hill doesn't ring any bells today because of one rainy afternoon in 1930. While driving home after a club match, Hill lost control of his motorbike on the slippery road and was killed. When the team was announced, it was Danie Craven who was picked.

Profession

I think it was Will Rogers who once described heroism as "the shortest-lived profession on earth".

Yes, Ettienne Botha is a hero. After blazing through the Currie Cup, he's very unlucky to not at least be touring with the Springboks. No two ways about it.

Similarly, Michael Claassen is very lucky indeed that he's packing his bags for Europe. No two ways about that, either.

But the fact remains that the likes of Ettienne Botha and Gary Botha are not the first "unlucky" players not to be selected for a Springbok team - and they won't be the last.

"That's life," was coach Jake White's opinion on the matter this week and while his quote came out sounding flippant, what he was probably trying to get across was that things just weren't always fair.

Charlie Chaplin probably best described this thing called life when he said it was a tragedy when seen in close up, but a comedy in long shot.

Ettienne Botha, I'm sure, isn't seeing the funny side of things this week, and who can blame him? But the reality is he simply missed out on being picked for a rugby team. His experience, no matter how painful, is no tragedy.

That "privilege" belongs to Pinky Hill.

Send Duane your views on this column.

  • Duane Heath is a freelance sportswriter who has written about the game for News24, Rugby World, IRB World of Rugby and the Sunday Times.

  • Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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