Later they’d be replaced by James Small, Pieter Muller and Joost van der Westhuizen. The walls of my bedroom were adorned with these pull-outs and many others - mainly from Huisgenoot (because I don’t think You existed then), but from other magazines, too.
These sporting greats, rugby greats, were gods to me. I couldn’t get enough of them and stuck any poster and picture I could on the walls of my room. It was my shrine to them and the motivation I sought to become like them.
I loved my sports stars, I looked up to them, and while 30-years-ago South Africa didn’t participate internationally (I never quite understood why, and never questioned it), I believed these men were the best in the world. I think every boy and girl then, and now, believe their heroes are the best. Everyone who loves sport grows up loving someone in the famous teams - be it the Springboks or Bafana or Chiefs or Celtic.
More recently the rugby heroes have been called Bryan, Bakkies, Victor, Jean, Chester, Breyton, Ashwin, Brent, Fourie, Schalk ... and I’m sure many young rugby players across South Africa have wanted to be like them. They’ve played “garden rugby” with their brothers and friends and called themselves by these names, and referred to their teams as the Boks, or All Blacks or, dear me, the Wallabies.
Who are the current heroes? Who in the Bok team in the last two to three years have become heroes for the eight, 10- and 12-year-olds? It’s hard to find these players. Some are stars and heroes in the colours of the Lions, Stormers, Bulls, Cheetahs or Sharks, even the Kings, but who of those donning green and gold have crept into the hearts of the fans, young and old, boys and girls?
Springbok rugby has been on a slippery slope for a while now and it is time something is done to right it. And fast.
It is simply not acceptable that the national team can accept a 50 percent success rate on a tour as a pass mark. It is not acceptable that the rugby watching public should accept record defeats against teams they once would have, and did, beat with a hangover. It is not acceptable that mediocrity is applauded and rewarded.
South African rugby fans are angry and rightly so. The game, after all, belongs to them. They deserve better from the national body and from the national team.
It is time that some honest decisions are made in the interests of the national game. And if that means being hard and tough on some individuals and institutions, for the betterment of the national cause, then so be it.
Former Springbok captain and Saru employee Rassie Erasmus has, for whatever reason, been hailed as the man who’ll turn the Bok fortunes around. It seems Saru believes he, and his long-time assistant Jacques Nienaber, have the magic wand. Well, it’s time that magic wand started working because the Boks are in need of a miracle if they’re to be a competitive force at the next World Cup, and beyond.
The current coach and even certain administrators can say otherwise, but the reality is Springbok rugby is in a very dire position. And it’s got nothing to do with transformation. It’s got everything to do with leadership, coaching, playing styles, picking the right players and all working towards a common goal.
The bosses in Cape Town now need to act decisively to give this country’s rugby fans, and even the players, hope that there is a better future ahead for all; that they are serious about making the Boks great again, and ensuring there are heroes out there for the boys and girls to aspire to.