Thursday, 18 October 2012

Iain Forsyth Buchanan



When Iain Buchanan proudly led Zimbabwe on to the field at the Wanderers, Johannesburg, on 5 July 1980, he became the most capped player in the nation's rugby history. It was his 73rd appearance for his country, beating lock forward Rob Stewart's record of 72 caps set in 1979, after which he emigrated to South Africa.

Buchanan's record is more than an impressive statistic, for he has proved himself to be one of the most durable players ever to step onto a Southern African rugby field. A short, solidly built man, he is driven by a fierce sense of competitiveness and patriotism and sustained by an excess of courage that has long been admired by local rugby fans.

Despite some appalling batterings behind a pack that was often not comparable to the juggernaut combinations of the major South African provinces, the nuggety scrum-half with the full beard, endured it all. As he became the most capped player in the land, he had not been substituted in any of his 73 games — testimony to his courage and extraordinary durability.

To this plucky Matabele at the outset of the 1980 season went the signal honour of captaining the very first team to play for the newly independent nation of Zimbabwe. Although former All Black, Kevin Eveleigh, had been appointed team captain — replacing Buchanan midway through the 1979 season — he was rested for the opening match of a three-game South African tour and it was Buchanan who led Zimbabwe to 39-6 victory over Eastern Free State at Goble Park, Bethlehem on 17 May. Eveleigh then resumed the leadership, but he was clearly struggling with his own form after a serious knee injury the previous season, and the captaincy was restored to a delighted Buchanan after a series of dismal performances by the national team. These included a galling 18-35 loss to lowly Eastern Transvaal at Springs, and an unimpressive 24-24 draw with Northern Free State at Kroonstad.

It was a wonder that Buchanan was playing rugby at all. After the 1979 season he broke his right ankle during a stint in the Army and had to have three steel pins inserted. It was widely predicted that his rugby career lay in ruins and that Zimbabwe would have to search for a new scrum-half — a serious problem. But the pessimists had not reckoned with the Buchanan spirit and, quite typically, he bounced back, playing gingerly at first to test the suspect ankle and then once again giving his very soul to the national team's cause and again proving his remarkable tenacity and toughness.

For such a man who had served his country so splendidly and so proudly, it was most fitting that he should create history by captaining the very first Zimbabwe team and that he should overcome a fearful injury to become the most capped player against Transvaal. This was his 47th successive game for the country, his unbroken run stretching back to August 1976 when he was recalled to play against Eastern Transvaal at Salisbury. And so it was that on 9 August 1980 at Bloemfontein. 'Bucky earned his 50th successive cap to rank alongside Stewart as one of the only two to have reached this mark in unbroken national matches.

Another record by Buchanan is certain to remain intact for many years. The match against Transvaal at Bulawayo on 23 August was his 43rd as captain and he was fast approaching making his mark as the first man to lead the national team 50 times. Rob Mundell's 23 captaincies are second on the record list stretching from 1968 to 1971, while Des van Jaarsveldt led Rhodesia 19 times and John Morkel 13 times.

Iain Forsyth Buchanan was bom at Bulawayo on 15 July 1949 and was educated at Northlea School, playing 1 st XV rugby for a remarkable four years. He was chosen for the Craven Week national schools team in 1966 and 1968, and for Rhodesia under-20 in 1969, his first year out of school, when he began his impressive club career for Old Miltonians.

In his early days he faced the twin-pronged challenge of competing for a berth in the national senior team with two of the country's most outstanding scrumhalves — Ted Alexander (1964-71) and the brilliant Des Christian (1972-76), surely one of the unluckiest players to have been denied a Springbok cap. When Alexander was injured, Buchanan, at the age of twenty-one, made his debut
against Griqualand West at the Salisbury Police Ground in a Currie Cup match which was lost 14-16 by Rhodesia. He also played in the Pretoria friendly the same year against Northern Transvaal (lost 18-35) to be well and truly initiated into big time rugby.

Buchanan turned out in the green and white three times in 1972, including a tragically violent match against the famous Welsh club Cardiff, in which three men were sent off. two of them Rhodesians. With the brilliant Gareth Edwards at scrum- half, Cardiff won 24-6 with superbly fluid play and top-class backing up.

Des Christian held the national captaincy in 1973 — a highly successful year, when the brand of open rugby nurtured by coach lan Mcintosh over three seasons was beginning to have its effect. After drawing 27-27 with Transvaal at Salisbury, Rhodesia went to Loftus Versfeld at Pretoria to face Northern Transvaal in the Currie Cup semifinal — the high point in the country's participation in this prestigious tournament. The first half belonged to the terrier-like Rhodesians and at the interval they led 3-0 through an Ian Robertson penalty, with eighthman Brian Murphy a tower of strength and inspiration. Christian was carried off on a stretcher and Buchanan came on as a substitute for the second time during the season — the only games he played that year. Eventually the stunned Northern Transvalers clicked and harvested 16 points in 20 minutes to seal the game 20-7 and deny Rhodesia their first Currie Cup final.

With Christian suspended for a spell. Buchanan was drafted for the 1974 Currie Cup match against Border at Bulawayo and scored his first try in a rampaging 46-23 victory, the third biggest win ever by Rhodesia. But Christian was back to face the British Lions at Salisbury and 'Bucky' had to sit on the substitutes' bench until he again took over for the three final games of the season after Christian was injured.

Christian was again the man in possession for the opening two games of 1975 before he was dropped and, for the first time, Buchanan made the scrum-half berth his own, starting with the 26-18 victory over Boland at Hartsfield. when he led Rhodesia for the first time. The team consisted of: L Duberly; E. Barrett. J. Harris. J. Loots, D. Arnott; M. Falconer, I. Buchanan; M. Banfield, S. McKenna, P. Abbot, P. Atkinson, M. Snyman, M. Jakobi, G. Smith, B. Murphy.

For the next six seasons, right through 1980, 'Bucky was to be first-choice scrum-half, save for a four-match spell midway through the 1976 season when he sat on the subs' bench and the wily Christian returned. It was a temporary setback for the tough-as-teak Matabele and after returning against Eastern Transvaal at Salisbury on 21 September 1976, he was never again-dropped by his country.

But he had lost the captaincy to Brian Murphy and Ian Robertson for the final games of 1976, while former All Black, Alan Sutherland, led throughout a distinguished 1977 season which rejuvenated Rhodesian rugby.

After beating Natal 18-13 at Durban, Rhodesia scored a sensational 18-9 upset victory over Morne du Plessis's Western Province in a thrill-packed Currie Cup game at the Salisbury Police Ground, a match that marked the debut of twenty-year-old winger Ray Mordt, who scored a dazzling debut try from his own ten-metre line.

Rhodesia's line-up that joyous day was: L Lachenicht: E. Barrett, P. Einhorn, D. Smith, R. Mordt; F. Inocco, I. Buchanan; M. Banfield, C. Rogers, R. Halsted, N. Topping, T. Ferreira, R. Stewart, K. Schlachter, A. Sutherland (capt.). For vice- captain Buchanan it was the high spot of his long career.

Despite his obvious qualities and class, Buchanan continued to be over- looked by the Springbok selectors as a trialist and he was not among the six of Sutherland's team to be invited to the 1977 trials. But even those who attended were given a raw deal, Smith and Delport — two of the outstanding backs in the country — being relegated to the D side for the final day. Stormed Sutherland: "The selectors can't see the forest for trees. They have blatantly overlooked the Rhodesian players. If Delport and Smith can't get into three sides. I really don't know. If there are better players I have not seen them. Buchanan is better than any half-back he has played against and yet doesn't even get a trial... what more can a Rhodesian do?"

Brian Murphy took over as national coach and Buchanan was restored to the captaincy in 1978 when Sutherland joined Wits University. Buchanan set the tone for a successful season with the words: "The Sutherland era is history... we must get on with it now as Rhodesians." Another highly successful season ensued, including a 32-15 win over the American Cougars — the only international of Buchanan's career.

Buchanan continued to hold the reins of captaincy for the first eight matches of 1979 when, with Rhodesia under severe pressure and unable to get on the winning trail, he gave way to former All Black flanker Kevin Eveleigh for the final six games.

The epitome of a team man and a patriot, there was no bitterness from Buchanan. He continued to serve loyally and with total commitment and played a major role in the end-of-season 19-15 Currie Cup win over Natal at Durban — the most emotional match in the nation's rugby history. After a dismal season of depressing defeats there was little prospect of subduing Natal, but on the eve of the match came the tragic news that full back LeRoy Duberly had been killed in action.

He had been selected for the game but had been unable to travel because of his Army commitment and Eric Barrett had been drafted in his place.

It was a choked Buchanan, a close friend of Duberly's, who vowed the night before the match: "We will win this one for our mate ... I promise we will win it."

That unshakeable determination was evident in every player next day with Buchanan playing himself to near exhaustion. At the final whistle there were incredible scenes of pure joy. Some of the players wept openly, while 'Bucky', in a typical gesture, personally carried Eveleigh on his shoulders all the way to the changing-rooms.

There was still one more hurdle to clear — the fight to stay in the A Section of the Currie Cup in the promotion-relegation match against Griqualand West at Bulawayo. Buchanan's tenacity was again to the fore in that 25-12 victory, in which Ray Mordt scored three tries.

The year 1980, the birth of the world-recognised Zimbabwe, again saw Buchanan restored to the national captaincy. His enthusiasm was such that it could have been his very first cap. "I am as proud today to be playing for my country as I was in my first season," he said. "I will continue to give everything I've got." He was justly entrusted with the captaincy for Zimbabwe's first overseas tour to England in October 1980.

A few overdue honours came his way in the twilight of his career. In 1979 he toured South Africa as a reserve player with the World XV and was given a late call to face the British Lions at Durban for the South African Barbarians — a team which prides itself in choosing players with sportsmanship and flair. Although the team lost 25-14, Buchanan scored one of the Barbarians' three tries.

Such a man as Iain Forsyth Buchanan fully deserves to be honoured among the nation's greatest sportsmen. He ended 1980 with a total of 85 national caps, 50 as captain, having played 57 games in succession to equal Rob Stewart's record.

- BYROM.

End

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