When Dick Coleshaw quit first-class rugby at the end of 1974 after playing nine straight seasons for Rhodesia without ever being dropped, he went with a tinge of regret — he had never reached the high point of becoming a Springbok. While his rich talents as a strongman of the front-row were never fully appreciated by the South African selectors, he did carve out an indelible record for himself in Rhodesian rugby history as one of the country's most capped and honoured players.
Acknowledged by his opponents as one of the strongest tight head prop forwards of his era, Coleshaw appeared in five internationals in the Rhodesian green and white and played in a total of sixty-two matches for the country between 1966 and 1974 to equal the record number of caps at that time held by Des van Jaarsveldt, since eclipsed by Iain Buchanan and Rob Stewart. When he reached his fifty caps in 1973, Coleshaw became only the second player in Rhodesian rugby history to achieve this distinction.
Through his nine years of dedicated service — during which he scored eight tries — Coleshaw was always a tower of strength in the pack, captaining the country for the final three matches of 1974.
Like Ireland's Willie-John McBride, Rhodesia's Dick Coleshaw was a reluctant recruit to rugby. Born on Boxing Day 1945 at Bulawayo, his first school was Christian Brothers College.
"Rugby at CBC was a compulsory sport and I wasn't attracted to it at all. If I hadn't had to play then, I probably never would have," he believes. The powerhouse prop — who at his zenith stood 1,84 m and weighed 95,5 kg — started his career in the backline of the CBC under-13 team, where he played centre.
But when he moved to Guinea Fowl School, the only weakness in the team appeared to be at prop — "and thenceforth Coleshaw became a prop," he recalls. He played for four years in the Guinea Fowl 1 st XV and in his final year at school, in 1966, he was selected for the first national Craven Week schoolboy side.
Graduating from the University of Rhodesia (now University of Zimbabwe) in 1968 with a BA he joined Salisbury Sports Club, having already represented Old Miltonians while in Bulawayo and the University while a student. He moved to Old Hararians in 1970.
His first-league career while at school saw him propping Springbok hooker Ronnie Hill before he left Bulawayo in 1966 for university. That year he played for Mashonaland in the Black and White tournament and for Matabeleland in a Russell Cup match while on holiday in his home town. These displays earnec him his first Rhodesian cap against North Eastern Cape at Cradock, and later against Griqualand West at Kimberley, and Western Transvaal at Potchefstroom on the Currie Cup tour.
Coleshaw has bitter memories of his debut game, which was lost 5-14. "That match still sticks in my mind as Rhodesia's worst performance," he said. "When the game started there was a howling gale blowing from 2nd to end and our captain, Reg Nield, chose to play the first half into the wind. The opposition piled on the points until half-time and then, almost by order, the wind stopped and the second half was played in a deathly still atmosphere."
The next year (1967) he played his first international against France at Salisbury. Rhodesia led 6-3 at half-time only to be trounced 36-13. But Coleshaw. hooker Rob Mundell, and loose head prop Butch van Horsten. had the satisfaction of winning the tigh thead count 7-2 in that match.
Coleshaw went on to play matches for Rhodesia against the 1968 British Lions, ihe Barbarians, the Wallabies, the Gazelles and Italy. The only international team he missed playing against during his era was the 1970 All Blacks, when an injury to his left knee kept him out for the season after the opening match against Free State.
In 1968, during his last year at university. Coleshaw split his club games between Salisbury Sports and Old Miltonians — a season highlighted ty his second international, at the age of twenty-two, against Tom Kiernan's British Lions at the Salisbury Police Ground on Whit Monday.
"The Lions introduced me to a brand of rugby completely different from what I had become used to " he recalls. "At the first scrum I was ordered to push at a higher level by my opposite number, Mike Coulman When 1 ignored him at the next scrum I was punched for not obeying. For the rest of the match I was taking punches."
"This was completely new to me and I think that game stands out as the one which taught Rhodesian rugby players a real lesson in hard play." The Lions won 32-6, with Gareth Edwards a star at scrum-half.
That year brought Rhodesia their first and only trophy in a Southern African rugby competition — the Board Trophy. The final was against South West Africa at Windhoek, and it was a particular triumph for the mobile Coleshaw, who scored two tries in a 36-14 victory, in which fly-half Tienie Martin was outstanding.
The Wallabies visited Rhodesia in 1969 and brought Coleshaw his next international cap at Bulawayo. In Rhodesia's 11-16 defeat he has vivid memories of Roy Prosser, the Australian front row, butting viciously as the scrums went down. "It's not a nice thing to admit" says Coleshaw, "but after three or four scrums, when the referee had not seen the hassle. I let him have it."
The Lions lessons had been learned and although a player from each side was sent off, the retaliation stopped a lot of unsavoury play.
"It's sad when a match becomes dirty," Coleshaw bemoaned at the time, "but this seems to be a trait among touring teams from overseas. In South African rugby, punches are thrown, but usually for a good reason. I have found that overseas teams tend to use a punch as part of their tactics — until it is stopped by the opposition."
Rhodesia's pulsating defeat of Transvaal in 1969 is a vivid memory for Coleshaw. With Van Horsten and Mundell he won that tight head count 12-2 as Neil Jardine led the side to 24-19 victory with a sensational solo performance, scoring a drop-goal, two penalties, two conversions and a thrilling try.
On the day before the match, Tienie Martin had withdrawn with a severe bout of flu and, in a desperation move, veteran Jardine was called in as the last-minute replacement. The Press and the rugby public proceeded to write-off Rhodesia's chances and some even booed when Jardine's name was announced ovsr the public address system as the replacement.
But Jardine was to stun them all with an astonishing come-back after being out of national rugby for more than two years. After he had scored sixteen points, exuberant supporters hoisted him shoulder-high. The most memorable moment was Jardine running and dummying past four bewildered defenders — including the great Piet Greyling — to score a magnificent try.
During 1970 Coleshaw moved back to Bulawayo to represent Matabeleland and Old Miltonians in domestic competitions. He played for Rhodesia against Free State at Bulawayo at the start of the season — a game that ended in injury and sidelined him for the rest of the season and prevented him opposing the All Blacks.
He regarded 1971 as his best season. After being ignored by the Rhodesian selectors when Springbok trials nominations were put forward, he was invited to the trials by Transvaal's former Springbok. Ian Kirkpatrick. He played for South African Country Districts against South Africa B and then for the Gazelles against the same team as a curtain-raiser to the first Test against France at Bloemfontein. Later that year he played for Country Districts and Gazelles against the touring Pumas from the Argentine.
Coleshaw rates 1972 as the most significant season for Rhodesian rugby. Ian McIntosh had taken over as national coach the previous year, and now he transformed Rhodesian rugby from a palm-slapping affair to the blackboard. Said Coleshaw: "Scientific methods of coaching took over from simple training and for the first time we were able to talk techniques.and patterns."
When he retired at the end of 1974, Richard Coleshaw had been to four Springbok trials and had won acclaim as a man of iron. "Trials are the first stepping-stone and with a mixture of luck and determination the chances are there,' he believes. "Trials are not a farce, but there is no feeling of belonging or of any familiarity with the players. It is difficult to expect a Rhodesian to do well. Trials
don't bring out the best in a player and if the Springbok selectors were really interested in a Rhodesian player, they should have made the effort to come up to our country to see him play in his own team.
"From my own point of view 1 can't complain. They have had a good look at me. but there are players ir Rhodesia like Brian Murphy, Des Christian, Eric Barrett and Rob Mundell who all deserved a better opportunity to show the selectors what they were capable of."
Coleshaw, too, was among those who must have come agonisingly close to becoming a fully fledged Springbok, for, after the redoubtable Andy Macdonald, he was Rhodesia's finest prop forward.
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