White’s men can’t dance

Mike Greenaway, writing in the Mercury, urges Jake White to keep the Bok haka in the change room.

White has come up with some cracking ideas during his four years as Springbok coach, as well as some clangers, and I reckon his idea for the Springboks to go public with a Zulu dance might well fall into the latter category.

Jake told this newspaper last week that a blood-revving dance along the lines of the Haka could be a useful extra psychological tool at the World Cup.

It could also leave the Boks looking very silly, very red-faced and might leave the crowd in stitches, as it did when the Boks did the very same thing in 1928 at Kingsmead in Durban, before the first ever Test match between the Springboks and the All Blacks on South African soil.

In Springbok Saga, that wonderful rugby bible by Chris Greyvenstein, Bennie Osler, the Springbok flyhalf that day, tells the story of the badly rehearsed, unconvincing war cry.

“I was so nervous that in the dressing room I felt the pangs of the damned. Finally Phil Mostert, our captain, led us out onto the field where Maurice Brownlee and his All Blacks were already waiting. We stood in single file as the All Blacks danced their haka, and then we replied with our own war cry of those days, a mixture of bad Zulu and gibberish, if I remember correctly.”

If you look at the photograph of the unnamed war cry, with the confused faces and out-of-time steps of the players, you can see why the crowd were more amused than anything else! And so the Boks’ Zulu dance was soon dropped …

Maybe that clumsy effort confused the All Blacks, too. They lost 17-0, a big score for those days, and Osler was the hero. He kicked 14 points, including two drop goals, with the other three points coming from a try by wing Jack Slater.

The Boks’ resounding win was all the more impressive because they played most of the match with 14 men after centre Bernie Duffy had been concussed early in the match.

From that era of no substitutes, there is no shortage of tales of stricken players playing on with broken limbs but apparently Duffy was wandering around senseless, getting in the way, and his teammates steered him off the field for fear of his life.

Osler, one of our most famous Springboks, was also one of the most nervous, as he alluded to earlier.
He was well known for vomit ing before games but reportedly his worst case of nerves was before his Test debut, which was against Britain in 1924, when he lost the power of speech on the morning of the game of the game and could only communicate by croaking!

Interestingly, Osler does grant this about the Zulu dance at Kingsmead: “It allowed me to blow off steam,” and presumably he soon after found his voice!

Osler’s nerves would have started early that day because of the Test match fever that had gripped Durban.

The rivalry between the Boks and the All Blacks was already fierce because of the drama of the first ever series between the countries – the Boks’ 1921 tour of New Zealand, which had finished all square. The All Blacks won the first test, the Boks the second and the third and final Test was a draw.

Durbanites queued from 6.30am to get into Kingsmead, and the capacity of 10 000 was soon reached. It was the biggest crowd that had ever gathered for a sporting event in Durban.

It is fascinating to learn that there was a major national outcry because the match was not broadcast over the radio. Commentary on radio had begun a few years earlier but the radio network was privately owned and could not reach an agreement with the post office over telephone wire facilities. Lest we think that wrangles over broadcasting rights are a modern trend!

But back to Jake and his idea of reviving Osler’s ancient remedy for nerves.

“New Zealand have come up with a new haka recently and, quite honestly, I would like to use ours as a challenge to them,” he told The Mercury last week. We have done this challenge before in our team room but it hasn’t really taken off as an idea to do it in public. Not yet, anyway.”

Jake, keep it for the change room!