The wonder of the game of rugby is that it takes all shapes, sizes, and aptitudes to make the moving parts combine into a thing of potential beauty.
Take the Springbok rugby team of 1995. On the wings, you had the glory boys, Chester Williams and James Small, who soaked up the crowd’s applause and scored the tries. At scrumhalf, Joost van der Westhuizen was the terrier who got up the noses of the opposition, revved up the referees, and took on defences with manic frenzy.
On the flank was Ruben Kruger, the silent assassin, who swooped on opposition backs like a hawk, or rumbled the ball forward with stoic intent.
Those four players are in rugby heaven and joining them is another cog in that epoch-making side that won the Rugby World Cup at South Africa’s first attempt, Hannes Strydom, the unassuming lock who did the hard yards that are unseen by the man in the stands or in his TV soft chair.
The team engine
Every successful rugby team has a humble hard worker who rolls up his sleeves and hits rucks all day, pushes tirelessly in the scrums, and takes his line-out ball. That was Strydom, who died in a car accident on Sunday, at the age of 58.
Players of Strydom’s ilk are as important as the centre who has the crowd on their feet as he scythes through a defence to score between the posts. Those who know their rugby better than most would say they are more important than any back because, without their toiling, the backs would not see the ball.
An equivalent in the current Springboks would be Franco Mostert, another who sweats blood for the team cause.
Speaking of Mostert, a former stalwart of the Lions, Strydom was a member of the Transvaal team that dominated rugby in South Africa in the early 1990s. He played 115 times for the Ellis Park team, winning back-to back Currie Cups (1993 and 1994), while in 1993 they did the double when they shocked Sean Fitzpatricks’ Auckland team in the final of the Super 10 tournament (it would evolve into the Super 12).
That Transvaal team would form the backbone of Kitch Christie’s 1995 side.
Strydom’s roots, though, were some distance from the highveld. He grew up in Port Elizabeth and played two seasons for Eastern Province (1986-1988), before moving to Northern Transvaal (now the Bulls) where he played from 1989-1992. He then moved to Ellis Park where he earned more than a century of caps between 1993 and 2000.
His Springbok career of 21 Tests spanned South Africa’s roller-coaster ride back into international rugby, which began with a horror comeback in 1992 before Ian McIntosh came in as Springbok coach the next year and steadied the ship.
Mac gave the 27-year-old Strydom his first cap, a losing Test to France at Ellis Park in 1993 and he would play 20 more Tests until his curtain call in 1997, the famous 61-22 annihilation of Australia at Loftus Versfeld.
Life after rugby
That was the last match the Boks played under outgoing coach Carel du Plessis and it was a fitting farewell for the 32-year-old Strydom, who would not be in the plans of Nick Mallett.
Strydom concentrated on his career as a pharmacist and at the time of his death, he had a successful chain of pharmacies.
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander described Strydom as “one of the great locks of his generation”.
“As a member of the Springbok squad from 1995, he was one of the heroes of our local game,” Alexander said.
“He also played more than 100 games for the Lions at a time when they dominated the game in South Africa. Hannes, along with other players from that Lions team, such as Francois Pienaar, Balie Swart, Kobus Wiese, and Hennie le Roux, formed the core of the famous Bok squad that lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in South Africa in 1995.
“He was a hard-working lock who never shied away from getting stuck in and doing the dirty work.
“To lose yet another member of the iconic Bok squad from 1995 is a heavy blow to the rugby fraternity here in South Africa and our thoughts and condolences are with his wife, Nikolie, their children, Annalie, Hannes, and Lucy, family, and friends in this very difficult time.”