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A legend in our lifetime

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Legendary rugby player Norman Mbiko PHOTO: nassief mannie/Gallo IMAGES
Legendary rugby player Norman Mbiko PHOTO: nassief mannie/Gallo IMAGES

The Nyanga Sport Council will hold a gala dinner to celebrate the legacy of Norman ‘Nhonho’ Mbiko, who carved himself a niche in the annals of rugby.

At the height of Apartheid, Mbiko was chosen as the captain of the Black Springbok team.

Although born in Kraaifontein in 1945, the notorious Group Areas Act saw his family being forcibly moved to Nyanga East.

As a student at Langa High School, Mbiko soon made his mark on the rugby field and became popular as a scrum-half.

He played for the Black Western Province Rugby Union from the age of 19 until his retirement form the sport in 1979.

He caught the eye of the South African selectors and played for the Black South African rugby team from 1964 to 1979.

In 1972, the Leopards- as the side was known then- played the opening match between a Black team and an overseas touring side.

It turned out to be a battle of the scrum-halves as England’s Jan Webster was incessantly challenged for the ball by team captain and opposing scrum-half Norman Mbiko.

Mbiko carries with him the honour of being the first Springbok to emerge from Nyanga East, and is a pride of the community.

His excellent display of skill on the field of play soon caught the eye of selectors and in 1962, Mbiko started playing for Western Province rugby.

A year later, he was selected for the Black South African Schools team after a convincing performance at a tournament in Port Elizabeth.

In 1965 he was promoted to senior provincial level. And he would get the opportunity to display his skill against the feared Eastern Province and Transvaal teams during inter-provincial games.

In 1967 he was selected for the black national team which played under the auspices of the South African African Rugby Board (SAARB) – against the Proteas, the representative side of the coloured South African Rugby Football Federation.

At the age of 21 Mbiko became the youngest Black South African captain and was also among the last to receive what was called the South African Bantu Rugby Club badge.

Mbiko played his first international game in 1972 – against a visiting English team. The game was played at the Wolfson Stadium in Zwide in Port Elizabeth, and England won 36-3.

Then, after the unification of rugby in 1992, Mbiko was appointed as a coach by Western Province. He had played for a local Club called the Flying Eagles and Lagunya Rugby Club was established in 1992, serving Langa, Gugulethu and Nyanga. These three townships combined, are the oldest in the Western Cape.

Between 1999 and 2000, he was appointed as a Springbok Sevens Coach.

In 2000, the Sevens team won the World Cup in Fiji, and the under-19 team won the World Cup in France in 2003. In 2009, he led a women’s squad to Dubai, where they reached the semi-finals stage of the World Cup.

During the World Cup in 1995, he offered some “strategic” advice to Morne du Plessis, the Boks coach at the time, on how to beat the feared All Blacks.

Mbiko retired from Western Province Rugby in 2006 and from South African Rugby in 2009.

Former president of the South African Rugby Association’s Oregan Hoskins, said: “My life is richer because of Mbiko. I call him ‘uncle’ because he deserves the title as a rugby man.”

Hoskins was manager of the SA Sevens team in the 1999-2000 season when Norman was the coach.

In 2008, Mbiko was called on to beef up the National Sevens of Uganda rugby squad in preparation for the upcoming Sevens Rugby World Cup qualifying tournament in Tunisia.

His brief was to work hand in hand with Coach John Musoke and coaching director David Dobela to create a winning formula that will ensure qualification.

Sport and politics in South Africa have always been intertwined and this affected the careers of many Black players, and Mbiko was no exception.

His last international game was in 1979 – when he captained the Eastern Province Invitation XV, against Newport in Wales.

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