Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Desmond Charles van Jaarsveldt

Photo 6, Desmond Charles van Jaarsveldt

Rhodesia produced several notable rugby Springboks, from the crash- tackling Ryk van Schoor and lock Salty du Rand against the All Blacks in 1949, through to the utility back Ian Robertson in France in 1974-75. But only one gained the ultimate honour of captaining the Springboks — a major power in world rugby — in an international. He was the famous 'Bald Eagle' of Bulawayo. Des van Jaarsveldt, who was on the flank to lead South Africa to an 18-10 victory over Scotland at the Boet Erasmus Stadium at Port Elizabeth in 1960.

It was the only Test of Scotland's short tour and it proved to be the only Test in which van Jaarsveldt played, though he distinguished himself by scoring a try, a rare feat on debut. The Springbok team he so proudly led was: M. Gerber; J. Engelbrecht, J. Gainsford, I. Kirkpatrick, R. Twigge; D. Stewart, F. Gericke; D. Holton, A. van der Merwe, M. Bekker, D. van Jaarsveldt J. Claassen, P. Allen, H. van Zyl, D. Hopwood.

Although he bears an Afrikaans name, van Jaarsveldt cannot speak a word of the language and freely admitted: "It must be the first time a Springbok captain has had to give his team talk in English."

The Rhodesian had replaced Johan Claassen as Test captain and this sparked controversy, with the newspaper Die Transvaler bitterly commenting: "It is an evil day for South African rugby when the country has to seek its rugby captain from beyond its borders in the territory of a strange land." Happily this did not reflect the attitude of most South Africans and certainly not of his team-mates who gave the popular Des their full support for his most worthy, though belated, recognition as a Springbok.

After a distinguished career for Rhodesia from 1947 to 1962 during which he played 62 games (behind only Iain Buchanan and Rob Stewart who had many more games per season open to them) van Jaarsveldt took over as president of the Rhodesia Rugby Football Union in 1979 to climax an unmatched rugby career for the country of his birth.

Born at Bulawayo on 31 March 1929, Desmond Charles van Jaarsveldt was educated at Milton Junior and Plumtree Schools and made his rugby debut for the then Southern Rhodesia as a wing against Northern Transvaal in 1947 when, at the age of eighteen, he was only a few months out of school.

Although the match was lost 3-20 at Bulawayo, van Jaarsveldt scored all his side's points. That year he also went on tour with the full Rhodesian team, and in his second game in the green-and-white scored a vital try in the sensational 10-5 victory over Western Province at Newlands. That has remained one of the high points of the nation's rugby history with the teenage van Jaarsveldt on the wing and marking the great Otto van Niekerk.

In front of a large crowd in ideal conditions, so unusual in the Cape, van Jaarsveldt got the better of this duel to show his enormous potential, while the Rhodesians as a unit played to their limit. It was Dave Garde, the hooker, who scored the try which put Rhodesia in front, but perhaps the major star was full back John Kitcat, whose courage and class had the crowd buzzing with admiration and led to widespread talk among rugby men of him being a future Springbok. So well did Kitcat play that the convenor of the Springbok selectors, Bill Schreiner, presented him with a Springbok tie.

Later, van Jaarsveldt moved to the flank and went on to captain Rhodesia 19 times between 1958 and 1962, a total only eclipsed by Buchanan and hooker Rob Mundell (23 times between 1968 and 1971). But one record still standing to the 'Bald Eagle' is for the most number of internationals for Rhodesia — he played in nine, one more than Andy Macdonald and three more than Brian Murphy and Ray Varkevisser. Van Jaarsveldt also scored 17 tries for his country, getting four of them in 1950.

A fiery player, with pace, strength and superb stamina, he searched remorselessly for the loose ball with an attacking flair which has remained unmatched by any forward from this country.

His monk-like devotion to the game earned him not only 62 Rhodesian caps and the Springbok captaincy, but also Springbok trials in 1951,1956 and 1960, and a Junior Springbok cap in 1955. Known for his amazing versatility, he played for Rhodesia as a wing, flank, eighthman and even as a front-ranker on occasion. His debut was against South Western Districts in a Currie Cup match at Riversdale, won 8-0 by Rhodesia just before that momentous Newlands game.

Van Jaarsveldt first captained Rhodesia against the French in 1958. This was the major draw card of the season and it saw a new-look Rhodesian team, with such unfamiliar faces as 'Poekie' Reynolds (full back), Clive de Bruyn (centre), Hendrik Meyer (wing) and half-backs Dux Deysel and Richard Bright. To back them was the rich experience of men like van Jaarsveldt Wickus de Kock, van der Spuy, Roebert and Macdonald.

It was the first visit by the French to Southern Africa and they were to thrill with their flair and enterprise. The flamboyant French, with scrum-half Pierre Danos the trump card, perplexed the Rhodesians to win 19-0. Michel Celaya's team went south and became the first touring side since Hammond's 1896 Britons to beat the South Africans in a Test series in South Africa.

The year 1958 was a disastrous one for Rhodesia, which fielded the first team from the country since the War to go through a full season without a single success, having been massacred 42-3 by Northern Transvaal. It was a worrying era, with few outstanding all-Rhodesian-bred players emerging throughout the 1950s Many of the stars were recruited to the tobacco farms in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) or to the mines in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Among such mer were Tom van Vollenhoven, Ryk van Schoor and Salty du Rand.

The great exception of the struggling fifties, of course, was van Jaarsveldt who at the end of 1959 was named as captain of the Rest of South Africa to play against the Currie Cup champions, Western Province, in a trial match for the Springbok team to be chosen in early 1960. Van Jaarsveldt led his side to a 19-14 victory and was named by a leading Afrikaans newspaper as one of South Africa's Five Rugby Players of the Year. It was this form that led to him, at the age of thirty one, pulling on the number six Springbok jersey on 1 May 1960, at Port Elizabeth against Gordon Waddell's Scots.

It was the realisation of a lifetime's ambition and vindicated his decision to switch from wing to flank Powerfully built — he represented Rhodesia as a heavy weight boxer in the 1950 South African championships — he was also fast, having won his school 100 yards (10,5 sec) and 220 yards (22,8 sec), reducing these times to 10,2 and 22,3 sec respectively after leaving school. He was later to combine this speed and aggression to brush aside the Scots' defence in his one Test in a pulsating fifty metre surge to score near the posts.

When the formidable All Blacks came to Rhodesia in 1960 they were held to an unconvincing 13-9 victory against an experimental Rhodesian XV at Kitwe. With van Jaarsveldt and the full Rhodesian side back for the Salisbury game, Wilson Whineray's men set their sights on a more impressive display. They did win 29-14, but Rhodesia gave them a fright by leading 9-6 at one stage in the game. Then the great Colin Meads scored a fortuitous try and the All Blacks ran in four tries inside twenty minutes, Don Clarke converting three. The valiant Rhodesians were by no means swamped and van Jaarsveldt was given great credit by the critics for a fine creative and aggressive game at Glamis Stadium.

In 1962, at the age of thirty-three, it was time for the 'Bald Eagle' to go. After a then record number of appearances he was dropped by the Rhodesian selectors after leading the team to a 24-8 victory over North Eastern Districts and scoring a typically aggressive try in his finale, after which he was replaced by 'Sakkie' Human. But it was not until 1967, at the age of thirty-eight after twenty years in senior rugby, that van Jaarsveldt — who played for BAC on leaving school and then served Old Miltonians for most of his career — retired from all rugby.

Awarded the MBE in the 1963 New Year's honours list he also coached the Rhodesian side from 1967 to 1970, was chairman of the provincial Matabeleland Board from 1973 to 1976 and assumed the highest office as president of the Rhodesia Rugby Football Union in 1979.

But it is as one of Rhodesia's greatest rugby players that Desmond Charles van Jaarsveldt will be best remembered.


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