John Robbie. Photo: Cara Viereckl
Revolutions and momentous events often start with a moment in time – or so history seems to teach us.

In fact, there is often more to it than that, but looking back, instances often get the credit. World War I would have started even if those fatal shots hadn’t been fired in Sarajevo.

Certainly, 25 years later, Hitler was going to invade somewhere else soon. History records Poland was the place but you name it, it could have been there. The key was the line in the sand, not the choice of destination from the Nazis.

History is full of such moments.

That police dog incident in Soweto in 1976? What actually happened is disputed by some even today, but it is part of our history nonetheless.

It is the same in sport. Rugby, in particular, has moments that are forever etched in its history. For goodness sake, the whole sport supposedly started with an Englishman deciding to pick up a football during a game and, breaking the laws, to run with it.

Those of us from Ireland know William Webb Ellis used to spend time on the Emerald Isle and probably played the ancient Gaelic game of “caid”, which must have influenced his rash moment of madness at Rugby School.

Which other sport can trace itself back to a single event in time?

It’s hard to believe that before Chris Laidlaw, the All Black scrumhalf, unleashed the spin pass at Oxford University, all No 9s used to flip pass the ball or dive pass it away every time. Gareth Edwards copied Laidlaw and added metres to the pass, but interestingly never perfected the skill off his left hand until after he retired.

Nowadays, aided by the nippled and sticky surface of the modern rugby ball, every player in a side can spin the ball off either wing in a manner that, to players before the millennium, would seem miraculous.

The Bulls tried it in the 1990 Currie Cup final. Look at the video. They lost to Natal.

Passing a rugby ball has been revolutionised and it started with Laidlaw.

A tackle in South Africa didn’t change everything in defence, but it issued in a revolution nonetheless.

People forget just how good the 1970 All Blacks were on that tour here, but have a look at their record before the first Test. They won all 10 games by a street and looked in a different class to the locals.

They were hot favourites for the first Test at Loftus and were widely predicted to become the first All Black side to win a series here.

The Boks took to the field more in hope than in expectation. After five minutes, the visitors won a scrum in midfield and moved it confidently to the right.

Wayne Cottrell, their strong five-eighth, received the ball and was then hit by a torpedo called Joggie Jansen, who was making his Test debut.

It has gone down as one of the most brutal yet perfect tackles of all time and, even on the old grainy black and white YouTube footage, it takes your breath away.

Talk to the players who were on duty that day. They say that tackle showed the All Blacks were not supermen, and the rest is history. That tackle started a revolution of belief.

In a way, it was the equivalent of Joost and Japie’s tackles in 1995 on Jonah Lomu. Do yourself a favour and watch it. A terrible beauty was born.

Carlos Spencer was the player I would love to have been. I was tidy, but always a bit timid. I was clever, but not spectacular. I was cerebral, but not spontaneous. He was simply spectacular.

It was probably from Aussie Rules that he developed the banana kick in rugby. Today it is still used to gain metres from a penalty kick close to the touchline, but he used it differently. He very deliberately lined up kicks in broken play and thus dragged defenders out of position in anticipation of his delivery.

At the last moment he dropped the ball on to the outside of his foot and his leg trajectory was at a completely different angle to that expected. He opened space and made defenders look silly.

He showed that ingenuity is still possible in an activity that is ancient. What an entertainer he was.

Did we witness such a moment at Newlands last week? Dillyn Leyds says he’s surprised at the reaction to his marvellous scoring offload to SP Marais. Who is he kidding?


Those who have seen South Africa slip further and further behind in terms of skill over the years have been crying out for a moment like that. A talisman has been needed to rally us all to the cause, and the cause is belief.

We have needed evidence that all is not lost. Yes, the Lions have shown it over the last few years, but they have been like Britain against Hitler’s Germany all those years ago. They were fighting alone.

The fact that Leyds does not think it is such a big deal indicates that maybe skill is coming back in our rugby arsenal.

The whole world will be watching for more green shoots of recovery. Maybe in years to come we will look at YouTube and remember the Leyds moment as the instant when the revolution started. It is early days, but let’s hope it was so.

* Robbie is a former British Lions, Ireland and Transvaal scrumhalf

Saturday Star