It SIMPLY was a match Rhodesia's rugby men felt powerfully compelled to win. It was 8 September 1979, at Durban's King's Park Stadium that Rhodesia — without a Currie Cup win all season — faced Natal.
Just a few days previously, Rhodesia's first-choice full back, Matabeleland's LeRoy Duberly, had been killed in action during a daring raid into Mozambique. He should have been on that Durban field that sunny Saturday afternoon but all efforts to get him released from an important Army task had failed, and Eric Barrett, normally a wing, was drafted at the last moment to wear the No. 15 jersey.
The Rhodesians heard of Duberly's death at lunch on the day before the match. National coach Brian Murphy, reflecting every player's feelings, said: "We are shattered. We have cancelled all functions and we will all stay in the hotel... but tomorrow on the field I can promise one hell of a performance. The guys have said that they will play this game for LeRoy."
Added Murphy: "One had to know 'Choppy' to realise just what sort of a man he was. There was no greater gentleman in the game. He was one you could always totally rely on."
The president of the Rhodesia Rugby Football Union, a former Springbok captain Des van Jaarsveldt, commented: "The rugby team is our family. LeRoy was an absolute sportsman, the epitome of a gentleman and always a completely loyal member of his club side."
We tried very hard to get him out for this game but he was in an area where it couldn't be done. We are heart-broken he has gone ... Goddamit, what is this war all about?"
The scenes at King's Park were the most emotional I have witnessed in two decades of reporting sports events. Emotion spilled over before, during and after the match, in which fifteen fanatically motivated Rhodesians did what they had promised ... they beat Natal 19-15 to honour the memory of their fallen mate.
In an emotionally charged atmosphere several young Rhodesians from the crowd ran round the field proudly waving their country's flags, before laying them down carefully behind the posts and standing rigidly to attention as a lone trumpeter from the Natal Light Infantry, played the haunting Last Post and Reveille while thousands of spectators and the players observed the two minutes silence before the kick-off.
Tears welled in the eyes of every Rhodesian player. Some said later they had shaken uncontrollably and had come close to breaking down.
In the match itself the fierce commitment to achieving victory for 'Choppy' Duberly was always evident and at the triumphant final whistle emotional control was finally lost by many, some weeping unashamedly.
None more than the quiet strong man of the front row, war-hardened farmer Keith Nicolson, who sat in a corner of the dressing-room for a long while and cried.
Matabele, Iain Buchanan, replaced as captain during the season by former All Black, Kevin Eveleigh, personally carried off his new captain shoulder-high and then summed it all up: "We had to win today, not for ourselves but for our mate. We gave him the best send-off we could possibly have given him. He was a mighty man."
Front ranker Neville van Niekerk tore a cartilage in the first scrum of the match and was in agony, but he refused to leave the field until well into the second half for Duberly's sake. That epitomised the spirit on the field.
Skipper Eveleigh, a Test-hardened Kiwi, was also caught up in the emotion and said he was proud to be a Rhodesian on the field. "It was important we won because of 'Choppy' and everyone rose to the occasion. After the game there were some guys crying . . . that's how much it meant"
Perhaps the hardest role was that allotted to Barrett. The twenty-eight-year- old Salisbury dental technician wore the No. 15 jersey that should have been Duberly's. He could not fight back the tears in the dressing-room before the match when he was handed the jersey worn by Duberly with distinction ten times during that season. But he came through proudly, his play remorselessly effective, while he also added a notable contribution by scoring the first try with a beautifully timed entrance into the line that proved unstoppable.
LeRoy Duberly was in his prime at the age of twenty-six when he died. He made his Rhodesian rugby debut against Eastern Province in July 1973 and played forty-two times for the country.
His debut match saw a 15-15 draw against Eastern Province at the Salisbury Police Ground, when hooker Forbes Wilson was another new cap. Ian Robertson was moved from full back to partner Lew Lloyd-Evans at centre to accommodate the young Duberly, who also played in the next game against Transvaal at Salisbury, when the mighty visitors were held to a 27-27 draw, Barrett scoring one of the team's four tries that day.
Duberly's third Rhodesian game was his first away from home, and at half- time at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld stadium, Rhodesia led Northern Transvaal 3-0, though they could not sustain the pressure and lost 7-20.
Duberly did not get a game in 1974 and had to wait until the opening match of 1975 against South Eastern Transvaal at Witbank to record his first points for the country — a lone penalty in a dismal Rhodesian performance (the game was lost 10-21). His first try was against Free State at Bloemfontein in May 1975, though this match was also lost 10-35.
Duberly shared in every match of Rhodesia's successful 1978 season, including victories over Eastern Province, Western Transvaal and Free State (29- 27) and a 19-19 draw with Transvaal at Salisbury.
A former pupil of Northlea School at Bulawayo, he was a prodigious kicker, and in the 1979 season notched 41 points, including a try, for Rhodesia. He was also renowned for his fearless tackling.
A machinist, Duberly made his senior club debut for Old Hararians at the age of eighteen when studying at the Salisbury Polytechnic. He played for Rhodesian Schools in the 1970 Craven Week and also played for Mashonaland, Matabeleland, Rhodesia under-20 and Rhodesia B before gaining his first full national cap.
From 1973-78 he lived in the shadow of Springbok full back Ian Robertson, but when Robertson moved to fly-half in 1978 he became a regular member of the national team, playing in all eleven matches that season, including his only international against the touring United States Cougars.
In 1979 he missed two games through a thigh injury before ultimately losing his life in the service of his country.
LeROY DUBERLY'S CAREER
Rhodesia debut: v. Eastern Province 1973.
Rhodesia caps: 42.
Rhodesia points: 83 (7 tries, 11 penalties and 11 conversions).
Suggested reading. Search for Puma Lost at Mapai.
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