Rugby reminiscences

2013-10-24 00:00

TAKING a trip down memory lane with Tim Cocks (61) enriches the soul, the twinkle in his eye burning brighter as he reminisces on his rugby playing days.

He’s definitely one of the boys, one of those who played because he enjoyed the game, his fellow players and had the talent to go with it.

At Westville Boys’ High School, Cocks played in the first rugby team for three years, making the fullback position his own. There were no SA Schools sides selected in those days, but he made the Natal Schools side in his matric year, along with Kearsney’s Wally Watt, who played flank.

“I was also a Natal Schools cricketer, a wicketkeeper batsman,” said Cocks. “I played in the first cricket side for two years but rugby was more my thing.”

One of Cocks’s fondest rugby memories is playing Durban rivals DHS. “In my first year in the Westville side we got hammered about 36-3 by DHS. They had huge lads in their side and we suffered,” he said. “Two years later, in my matric year, we beat them 21-18, with yours truly scoring nearly all the points. Our headmaster was so chuffed, he gave the school the following Monday afternoon off.”

In the army, Cocks played cricket, missing out on three weeks of his basic training to play for the country districts side in Stellenbosch.

“I was based in Ladysmith, an absolute hellhole, and had to get out. I ended up doing a PT instructor’s course and moved to Pretoria. I spent the rest of my time travelling with the gymnastics side and wearing a tracksuit. No webbing and geweer for me.”

Having played three matches for Collegians U20 while still at school, it was a foregone conclusion where Cocks’s club rugby allegiance would be rooted. He was loyal to the club throughout his playing days and is recognised as one of their stalwarts.

“I played one game in the seconds then trotted out for the first side. In my first year of club rugby, I was selected for the Natal side,” said Cocks. “I was selected at flyhalf for Natal, having played centre for Collegians.”

Tommy Bedford was the Natal captain and the selectors took turns in coaching the side. Cocks’s first match was against Rhodesia and his instructions were “keep in position and have the opposing flyhalf in my pocket”.

For Cocks, his journey to the Natal No 15 jersey was a long road. “I was the entrenched flyhalf, then when Malcolm Swanby retired, I went to fullback,” he said. “Then Doc Louw arrived and I was switched again. I even played wing at one stage to stay in the team, but the powers that be finally saw the light when Roger Gardiner arrived as coach in 1978 and I went back to fullback.”

Cocks earned 85 caps for Natal and remembers the side surviving on minimal possession. “We were small compared to the other sides and our forwards used to get stuffed up. The backs though, were full of running and we managed to compete with the other unions.”

A memorable result for Cocks was beating Transvaal at the old Ellis Park. “We were 18-3 down and ended up winning 22-21,” he said. “I landed the winning conversion after Bedford had said to me I would be out the team if I didn’t bang it over. He hated losing.”

In 1978, Cocks was in the SA Barbarians side that went to England. “It was a side made up of eight whites, eight blacks and eight coloureds,” he said. “We played in Scotland, England and Wales and had players such as Divan Serfontein, Errol Tobias and the Shields brothers, Turkey and Hennie, in the squad. We were managed by the late Chick Henderson, a great man.”

Before the tour, Cocks approached the Natal Rugby Union regarding funding. “They gave me a whopping R200 for the 28-day tour. Seems crazy in today’s professional world,” he said.

Two years later, in 1980, Cocks was selected for a Springbok tour to South America, where three Tests were played against Hugo Porta’s side. “I was on the bench 13 times for the Boks, but never got on the field in a Test,” he said. “Back then, you were capped if selected for a tour and I have a framed letter at home, from SA Rugby, confirming I am Springbok number 521.”

For that tour, Cocks was given R450 and was allowed about R7 a day.

“Gysie Pienaar took the fullback jersey then, a great player who changed SA rugby. He played with flair and was always attacking. That’s how rugby should be played,” said Cocks.

Cocks hung up his boots in 1983. He was 31 but had achieved what he desired. “It was a grand journey with a grand bunch of blokes. Even the opposition were friends,” he said.

Cocks still follows the game, having the Freedom of King’s Park with two lifetime tickets every season, but by his own admission, “what I know about the current game is dangerous”.

One thing Cocks detests is the current style of play in South Africa, the pick and go, players barging into the opposition and making no ground after numerous phases of play.

“It’s all about putting players into gaps, being on the front foot, playing with flair and presenting the ball. Attacks cannot always be launched from the base of the scrum and size is not everything. We proved that in my playing days.”

A wise judgment from a player who said, “The only reason I played rugby was to have a beer with the boys afterwards.”

Cocks Lifestyle

Has worked in the motor business for 20 years

Has played golf off a nine handicap

Enjoys working in the garden

Likes to read autobiographies

Is a beer man

As for music, he is tone deaf

Likes handiwork and keeping busy

A rare steak is a favourite meal

Movies depends on what the Missus decides. Likes to be entertained

Is not great at languages and battled to speak Afrikaans in his playing days

Advice to youngsters

Club rugby is important and provides experience and the stepping stone to greater achievements. Be loyal to your club and be patient, you never know when that break will come. What you put in, you get out and in rugby, it’s all about working together. Remember, it’s a team sport.

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