Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 2 (1977 to 1990)

In a previous blog post, The Ashwin Willemse incident and the many critics of South African rugby in the 1980’s , I concluded that, maybe those so critical of South African rugby in the 1980’s like Gareth Stead, Pieter du Toit and Christi van der Westhuizen and others, are not fully aware of the strides made during that period already in starting to transform the sport, which yes still far from the ideal, in part laid the foundation for the post-Apartheid era of in rugby in South Africa and the full unification of the sport in 1992. I want to therefore highlight some of the milestones achieved in this regard (whilst fully acknowledging that it will not be a complete picture as SARU did not participate in any SARB sanctioned tournaments in the 1970’s/1980’s).

As background, rugby in South Africa was for a large part played on a segregated basis from 1886 until 1977. Separated rugby unions existed for the different racial groups during this period, the names of which changed a number of times over the years. This changed in November 1977, when the then coloured South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF), black South African Rugby Association (SARA) and white South African Rugby Board (SARB) amalgamated to form the non-racial South African Rugby Board. This unification meant that players of colour of the former SARFF and SARA unions could play in the mainstream competitions of the new non-racial SARB, which was affiliated to the International Rugby Board (IRB). The South African Rugby Union (SARU), under the leadership of Dullah Abass, on the other hand decided not to be part of the unification process and continued under the leadership of the South African Council on Sport (SACOS) to make a case for “no normal sport in an abnormal society”.

In part 1 of this blog post Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) , I provided an overview of international matches involving the Proteas being the representative side of the South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF), and the Leopards being the representative side of the South African Rugby Association (SARA) for the period 1971 to 1976. The purpose was to demonstrate that even before unification in 1977, rugby already made progress in moving to non-racialism in the sport.

In this part 2 of the blog post I will highlight some of the milestones achieved under the umbrella of SARB towards non-racial rugby in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.


1977 – Players of colour took part for the first time in the national rugby trials in Pretoria to elect the Springbok team to play against a World XV (the selectors were also racially mixed). This included Errol Tobias, Piet Boonzaaier, Hennie and Turkey Shields, Hannes Meyer, Louis Paulse, Randy Marinus (Randy Marinus: Een van rugby se onbesonne helde) and Charles Williams from the former SARFF and a number of other players from the former SARA.

SARU forbade its players to take part in the trials, though three did. None of the SARFF  or SARA players made the Springbok side but Hennie Shields was chosen for the Gazelles and Errol Tobias and Turkey Shields for the SA Country XV.

In that year, too, all grounds where SARB matches were played were open to all races.

Randy Marinus

Randy Marinus in action – He played against the 1976 All Blacks at the age of 19. He later decided to continue his career under the SACOS affiliated SARU. 

1977 – Timothy Nkonki and Hennie Shields selected alongside the Northern Transvaal captain, Thys Lourens, to travel to Argentina to be part of an Invitation XV to play in the centenary celebrations of the Club Atletico San Isidro.


Hennie Shields (right) with a visitor outside the SA Rugby Museum

1977 – Timothy Nkonki and Morne du Plessis participate in a festival match in France.

Michell tackled Leopards76

Joe Morgan getting scythed down by Mncendi Mnqatu (left) and Timothy Nkonki in a match between the 1976 All Blacks and the Leopards

1978 – Timothy Nkonki, Andrew Msuki and Solomon Mhlaba and a number of coloured players from the former SARFF participates in the Springbok trials ahead of the tour by France. Tour however cancelled with many saying that it robbed Nkonki from the opportunity to become the first black Springbok.

noppic-4200471 (2)

Solomon Mhlaba

1978 – Two black teams from the former SARA as well as two coloured teams of the former SARFF participates in the Sport Pienaar Competition that catered for the second tier provincial unions in South Africa. They were SARA West, SARA East, WP league and SWD league. They played against teams like South Western District, Eastern Transvaal, Northern Free State and the like.  Other than the WP League under Dougie Deyers, the other teams found the going tough.

Dougie Deyers played more than a hundred matches for WP League and 38 for the Proteas, including matches against England (1972) and the British Lions (1974). In 1971 he was the captain of the Proteas team that toured the UK and England (for more on this see part 1 of this blog post – Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) .

He was also a national selector from 1977 through to 1991 and in the post-Apartheid era from 1993 to 1995.


Dougie Deyers

1978 – The American Cougars (also known as the USA Cougars or United States Cougars) is the only rugby union team from the United States ever to beat a reigning Currie Cup championship team in South Africa. A combined and invitational side from the United States, the Cougars toured South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1978. On 12 August 1978 they lost 12-44 to a racially mixed South African Country Districts XV side at East London. Some 5,500 spectators watched as future Springbok Errol Tobias contributed two tries to the Districts’ total and aided in the scoring of two others.


The Cougars touring team to South Africa

1979 – The SARA West and SARA East teams combined to play in the Sport Pienaar competition. In the years to follow they, and the SWD League decided not to participate in the competition, but rather in the Golden Cup competition against teams of semi-provincial stature.

1979 – WP League continues to play in the Sport Pienaar competition and ended fourth in Conference 1 after winning four of their seven matches against stronger second-tier provincial teams.

1979 – Possibly the most significant event for the SA Barbarain rugby club was the first multiracial South African rugby team to tour outside South Africa when it went to the United Kingdom in October 1979. The tour squad had eight white players (SARB), eight coloured players (SARFF – Hennie and Turkey Shields, Nicky Davids, Charles Williams, Louis Paulse, Hannes Meyer, Errol Tobias and Pompies Williams) and eight black players (SARA/SARU – Morgan Cushe, Timothy Nkonki, Lillee Jonas, Sydney Ncate, Bridgman Sonto, Welcome Mtyongwe, Solomon Mhlaba and Arthur Poro) and was managed by Chick Henderson. Attempts were made from the start to integrate the squad’s three ethnic groups, with six of the eight white Barbarians rooming with black or coloured teammates on the first overnight stay. The squad was coached in English despite only two of the twenty four using English as their first language whilst tour singing was often in Xhosa.

The South African Barbarians take on Devon in 1979

SA Barbarians take on Devon in the opening match of their UK tour

Seven fixtures were played; the results were as follows:

  • Weds 3 October 1979 – Devon (Exeter) W 27-18
  • Sat 6 October 1979 – Cornwall (Camborne) W 23-7
  • Weds 10 October 1979 – Scottish Border Club (Galashiels) D 20-20
  • Sun 14 October 1979 – Co-Optimists (Hawick) L 4-24
  • Weds 17 October 1979 – Coventry W 41-24
  • Weds 24 October 1979 – Llanelli W 15-6
  • Sat 27 October 1979 – Newport L 15-21


The SA Barbarian team in action

The tour was a great success and seven of the members of the 1979 SA Barbarians went on the play for the Springboks including Errol Tobias.

Policemen line the pitch during the South African Barbarians game against Devon in 1979

The SA Barbarian team in action

1979 – On the 1979 Barbarian tour to the UK Morgan Cushe became the 1st Black person to captain a representative South African team in the match against Cornwall which the Barbarians won 23-7.


Morgan Cushe

1979 – World Invitation XV toured South Africa under captaincy of All Black Frank Oliver. They played seven matches including matches against a Craven XV, Transvaal and Northern Transvaal. The XV included a few South Africans including Hennie Shields, Errol Tobias and Ray Mordt.

International XV

International XV – 1979

1979 – Norman Mbiko (A legend in our lifetime) plays his last international game when he captained the Eastern Province Invitation XV, against Newport in Wales.


Norman Mbiko

1980 – The Craven Week become racially mixed. The Craven Week is an annual rugby union tournament organised for schoolboys in South Africa. The tournament started in July 1964, and is named after the legendary Springbok rugby union player and coach Dr Danie Craven.

1980 – On Wednesday 4 June 1980 the South African Country Districts XV team lost 7-27 at Windhoek’s South-West Stadium to the Lions on their tour of South Africa. A crowd of 9,000 saw replacement Charles Williams score a try and fly-half Errol Tobias add a penalty to complete the Districts’ score. Jim Renwick, Gareth Williams, Clive Woodward and Colm Tucker scored a try each for the visitors, while Gareth Davies added 11 points through a conversion and three penalties.

1980 – History will record that a SARA XV, nominally a Leopards XV , recorded a second defeat at the hands of the British and Irish Lions of 1980 by a margin of 28 – 6. Veteran flanker Morgan Cushe, who had played in the corresponding 1974 fixture captained the side although with a smattering of white Northern Transvaal and Western Province players beefing up the pack in accordance with the Lion’s expressed wish to play multiracial sides, the team departed from what some at the time considered its African XV origins.

1980 – A South African XV looses to the British and Irish Lions 22-19 at Olën Park, Potchefstroom. The SA XV featured Hennie Shields, Frankie Davids, Hannes Meyer and Timothy Nkonki.

SA XV 1980 2

Some of the SA XV that played against the 1980 British and Irish Lions

1980 – Billy Beaumont’s British and Irish Lions touring side of 1980 defeated a Proteas XV 15–6 in front of a crowd of 15,000 at the Danie Craven Stadium on 27 May 1980. The nomenclature Proteas XV is of import here and the distinction is made since whilst the Proteas’ running backline included notable SARFF star players such as Ronnie Louw, John Noble, Hennie Shields, Charles Williams, Frankie Davids, Errol Tobias (who notched two penalties on the day) and Attie Lategan, the Proteas’ forward pack’s front five was composed entirely of white Western Province players.

1980 Lions Proteas

1981 British Lions vs Proteas

1980 – Errol Tobias was included at centre in the South African Barbarians team that lost 25- 14 to the British Lions at Kings Park on 2 July 1980. His teammates included Argentinian Hugo Porta and three players of colour, Francois Davids, Charles Williams and Solomon Mhlaba.


Francois Davids

1980 – Tobias elected as a member of the Springbok touring party to South America in October 1980 making him the first black Springbok. The Springbok touring party was denied visas to enter Argentina. As a result all tour matches were played in Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile and drew crowds as small as one hundred. Errol did not feature in any of the two tests on the tour.


Springbok Errol Tobias

There was some opposition to Tobias’ inclusion from both black and white communities. Some within his own community in Caledon felt he should not play as long as apartheid policies existed, while some white people wanted Tobias excluded.

Remembering that time, Tobias said: “We had no say in politics. We didn’t even have a vote, so all I knew at that stage was to play rugby. My goal was to show the country and the rest of the world that we had black players who were equally as good, if not better, than the whites, and that if you are good enough you should play.”

1980 –  As part of the tour to South America, South Africa beat a Chilean Invitation XV by 78-12 in a match that saw Errol Tobias kicking 10 conversions to become the first black man to kick a goal in a Springbok jersey of the SA Rugby Board.

This also came after he became the first black player to wear the Springbok jersey when he played against a Paraguayan Invitation XV, and the first to score a try in the jersey after scoring against British Schools Old Boys.

1980 – The Mbabalas (“bushbucks”) team consisted of African players sent on a tour of the United Kingdom and United States of America in 1980, by the SA Rugby Board.  By the nature of it, this tour was meant to promote the newly established multi-racial SARB which came into being in November 1977. 


Team jersey of the 1980  Mbabalas

1980 – In the beginning of the 1980’s, Danie Craven appointed Ian Kirkpatrick, and along with first Abie Williams and then Dougie Deyers, Piet Kellerman and others (including several Springboks), they took rugby to every corner of South Africa. Their mission was to change South Africa on the rugby field by promoting racially mixed rugby. The tool that they used was coaching clinics. These efforts continued for most of the 1980’s.

1981 – WP League joined the Western Province on a trail basis, and from 1984 onward on a permanent basis.

1981 – The Irish toured South Africa in 1981 and in their first fixture, saw them take on a strong SA Gazelles team, basically the Junior Springboks, with Wilfred Cupido of Western Province in the team who beat the Irish 18-15.


The SA Gazelle team against the Irish – 1981

1981 – In their second fixture, the Irish took on a fairly underwhelming opposition in the guise of the Gold Mining Invitation XV. Solomon Mhlaba, a tourist to the UK with the 1979 SA Barbarians started at full back for the GMI XV but he saw little of the ball to demonstrate his attacking prowess as Ireland ran in seven tries with John Murphy contributing a total of eighteen points via his boot from fullback.

1981 – Errol Tobias selected at centre for the Springboks to play against the touring Irish team making him the first black Springbok to play in a test match. In the first test at Newlands on 30 May, a crowd of 37,000 watched as Tobias broke, then gave an inside pass to Rob Louw, who scored.

Untitled 3

Errol Tobias before his 1st test against the Irish – 1981

1981 – Tobias was a member of the Springbok squad that toured New Zealand in 1981 under controversial circumstances, but did not feature in any of the three tests.


Errol Tobias playing in New Zealand – 1981

1982 – Avril Williams and Wilfred Cupido selected to play for Western Province, with many other players of colour following in their footsteps to play provincial rugby.


Wilfred Cupido (far left) playing for Western Province

1982 – A Five Nations XV tours South Africa to play at the official opening of the revamped Ellispark stadium. They played against a SA Presidents XV which by all intents were a full strength Springbok team. The players of colour in the SA XV team was Errol Tobias, Avril Williams, Wilfred Cupido and Jerome Paarwater.


SA Presidents XV

1983 – Anglo-American sponsored the Mbabalas, this time a multi-racial team consisting of 10 white and 13 Black players, to tour the United States of America for almost four weeks. They played seven matches including a repeat match against the Dallas Harlequins.

One of the most notable players who emerged from the tours by the Mbabalas (“bushbucks”) was Timothy Nkonki, who made his mark by first obtaining national representative colours as a SARA Leopard but also turned out for a World XV against France in Paris 1975 under the captaincy of Morné du Plessis, to mark the 75th anniversary of the French Rugby Federation.  Nkonki also played against the 1975 French, 1976 All Blacks, British Lions as well as representing the South African Barbarians on their tour to the United Kingdom in 1979 (for more on this see part 1 of this blog post – Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 1 (1971 to 1976) .

1984 – The 1984 Springbok team against England contained no less than two players of colour namely Errol Tobias and Avril Williams.

2nd Test: SA 35 England 9

Avril Williams playing against England

With Tobias pulling the strings at flyhalf, the Springboks beat the tourists 33-15 in Port Elizabeth.


Springboks versus England – Ellispark

This was followed up with a 35-9 win at Ellispark in Johannesburg.


Errol Tobias playing against England

In the second test Tobias scored a spectacular try in the Ellispark corner where I have been sitting as a twenty-one year old watching the test, with Avril Williams also having a hand in a flowing Springbok movement. As he raced to score the try the whole of the Ellispark East Stand rose with him. He divided to score and stood up facing his team-mates, arms aloft in a giant ‘V’ as if to symbolize that he had conquered – racial barriers on the one side, and accusations of tokenism on the other.

His performance in the 2nd test made headlines with many national newspapers proclaiming “Errol Tobias: Pure Gold”.


Errol Tobias: Pure Gold

1984 – The Country Districts XV side played against both the 1984 touring English and South American Jaguar sides. The team was drawn from players of all races competing in the Sport Pienaar Cup, losing both fixtures 33-12 and 30-18 respectively.

1984 – Errol Tobias elected to play in both tests against the visiting South Americans in October 1984. The Springboks won the first test 32-15 and the second 22-13.

E Tobias

Errol Tobias in action against the South Americans

1984 – Five years later on and the SA Barbarians undertook their second overseas tour, this time to West Germany. The touring party of twenty five was composed of twelve white and thirteen coloured and black players. Four fixtures were played (in Bonn, Wiedenbruck, Hannover and Heidelberg ) 314 points were scored and only 27 conceded. South African “sides” had toured Southern Germany in 1974 and 1977 but this was the first multiracial tour to the Federal Republic which received official support and was seen as a reciprocal visit to the unofficial West German tour to South Africa in 1983 (under the guise of a Bonner XV).

1984 – Towards the end of 1984 Errol Tobias played against England for an RFU Presidents XV together with Rob Louw, Danie Gerber and Rudi Visagie.


Errol Tobias playing for the RFU Presidents XV

1984 – Wilfred Cupido, a coloured player selected for the Boks internal tour in 1985, played against a Wales XV for a Presidents XV captained by Rob Louw.

1985 – WP League missed promotion to the Currie Cup competition by a whisker.

1985 – Mbabalas, a multi-racial team played the visiting USA Chicago Lions in Welkom.

1985 – Four black players invited to take part in the Springbok trials for the upcoming All Black tour. Tour however cancelled due to political pressure in New Zealand.

1985 – In 1985 the Springboks undertook and internal tour after a visit by the All Blacks was cancelled. Dolly Ntaka became the 1st ethnic black person to be selected for the Springboks. Unfortunately as it was an internal tour no official colours were awarded and Ntaka lost out to be recognized as the 1st ethnic black Springbok. Wilfred Cupido from Western Province was also in the team.


Dolly Ntaka in Springbok colours

1985 – In the final match of their internal tour the Springboks beat the SA Barbarians by 30-18.


Dolly Ntaka playing for the Springboks against the SA Barbarians

A number of players of colour played for the SA Barbarians including Michael Mboto.

Michael Mboto

Michael Mboto

1987 – During the rebel South Sea Barbarians’ 13 match tour (a team made up of representatives from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and one Canadian in 1987, organised in lieu of the cancelled visit by Australia, the SA Barbarians played two unofficial test matches. The 1987 SA Barbarians lineup had a far more distinct Springbok XV feel to it despite some senior players questioning the quality of the opposition. The South Sea tourists were defeated 56-30 at Ellis Park but pushed their hosts considerably closer at Kings Park one week later in a narrower 38-32 loss.

1987 – The South Sea Barbarians’ played against the Proteas and drew 25 – 25 as well as the Leopards who they beat 46 – 11

1998 – Greater rugby unification gained further momentum on 7 May 1988 when representatives of SARB and SARU met at the Cape Sun in Cape Town to discuss the way forward for rugby in South Africa.

1988 – In 1988 a multiracial side (the SA Barbarians in all but name – they toured as the Nampak Pioneers) eventually undertook a six match visit to Chile and Paraguay after a series of postponements and rescheduling. Home sides were intended to be bolstered by considerable Argentinian and Uruguayan representation – which did not come to pass and consequently a series of one sided encounters took place with over 100 points being scored against the respective national sides.


In two blog posts I provided an overview of international matches involving the Proteas being the representative side of the coloured South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF), and the Leopards being the representative side of the black South African Rugby Association (SARA) for the period 1971 to 1976, and highlighted some of the milestones achieved under the umbrella of SARB towards non-racial rugby in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.

The purpose was to demonstrate that even before and especially after the unification of 1977, rugby made great progress in moving to non-racialism in the sport and that it is therefore not correct to state that Naas Botha and Nick Mallet played segregated rugby in the 1980’s under Apartheid.


4 responses to “Non-Racial Rugby in South Africa: 1971 to 1990 – Part 2 (1977 to 1990)

  1. Pingback: Ashwin Willemse – did he infringe the dignity, respect, and standing of Nick Mallet and Naas Botha? | 2 Sides 2 Everything

  2. I played the opening game in Witbank against the South Sea Barbars (cheated of a 48m penalty!). I can tell you some stories from the changing rooms! Some interesting moments, that later lead to a threat on my life! I also played in the SA Feeder VX vs Natal at Kings Park (captain). Where suppose to play the South Sea Barbars orginally (set up to loose!). Do you where I can get any photos of the team. I also have a little known fact that will rock your rugby knowledge. I still have one of my jerseys and the socks to prove that I’m real.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s