Celebrating 100 Years of the Bok

The SA Rugby Union, in conjuction with Highbury Safika Media, has published a special edition of Fifteen magazine to celebrate 100 years of the Springbok.

15.jpgThe 152-page bumper issue was produced by the SA Rugby magazine team and is a collectors item for any Springbok fan.

Inside we review the 1995 World Cup triumph, both Tri-Nations victories, the four Grand Slam wins and the famous 1937 tour to New Zealand. We also profile Joost van der Westhuizen (the most capped Bok), Mark Andrews (most capped Bok forward) and pay tribute to the late Danie Craven.

In a Fifteen exclusive, Jake White explains what the Springbok jersey means to him and Naas Botha looks at the best kickers from the last 100 years. We also name the most influential Bok captains and look at the evolution of the Bok badge.

South African rugby this week launched the centenary celebration of the Springbok emblem.

Far more than any other rugby-playing country in the world, the Springbok emblem has become synonymous with both the good and the bad South African sport, and in particular rugby, has had to offer through the years.

First coined in 1906 during South Africa’s first away Test series in the United Kingdom, the Springbok quickly became the symbol of a powerful (and white) rugby-playing nation.

It identified South Africa’s troops fighting against the Nazis during World War II.

But after the banning of the now ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the 1960s, the Springbok was increasingly identified with white South Africa’s segragationist policies.

Even though black and so-called coloured (mixed-race) players referred to themselves as “Springboks” during the years of racial segregation, the emblem during those days symbolised much of what was wrong in the country.

Nowhere was it more pronounced than during South Africa’s 1981 tour to New Zealand, which was marked by huge demonstrations, pitch invasions and running battles between anti-tour protesters, police and rugby supporters.

Following Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, South Africa was allowed back into the international rugby fold and five years later, not only hosted, but also won the World Cup.

For many former rugby players, including arguably its most famous captain Francois Pienaar who led the 1995 World Cup-winning squad, the Springbok became a symbol of unity between both black and white South Africans.

“To me it’s a symbol that for the first time in the history of this country people united, both black and white during the Rugby 1995 World Cup,” said Pienaar.

“To me there is no more powerful symbol than that,” he told AFP. After the World Cup euphoria, South African rugby steadily went into decline, hitting an all-time low at the 2003 World Cup, suffering a 29-9 drubbing by New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Preparations for the world series were marred by a training scandal, now infamously known as the “Kamp Staaldraad” affair, where among other, players were forced naked into a freezing lake.

Its administration has been plagued by infighting, while black players and the majority of South Africans said they would like to see more black faces.

In the beginning of 2004 former high school teacher Jake White took over as coach after a dismal season. Under his tutorship, the Springboks bounced back from six in the IRB’s rankings to number two.

Regarding transformation, coach White believed he was on the right track. “We’ve been playing Test rugby for the last 100 years with a twentieth of our playing resources.”

“Now we have a player base of 45 million — surely if you get it right it’s hugely exciting for South African rugby,” he told AFP.

Rugby writer and commentator Mark Keohane said he believed the Springbok emblem has come full circle. “I think the Springbok is something any young player can aspire to nowadays. What’s changed is that anybody in this country can wear it irrespective of their background,” he said.