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28 February 2015
I love this old picture. There is so much about it that has come down the years. And on a personal level when I saw it as a kid I was first drawn to it by seeing our 'family name' on the advertising hoarding in the background.
The shot was taken late in the first test of the 1955 test series between South Africa and the touring British Isles. The British Lions were leading by one point and a successful kick would have won the game for the Springboks. Alas the kicker, the South African fullback Jack van der Schyff, sent the ball wide and the Lions won minutes later by 23-22.
See the disappointment in his body language but see also that the miss was a shock to others in the huge crowd - certainly to the keeper of the scoreboard in the background! He had left a slot open to put a new successful new total in for South Africa WHEN the kick went over!
On the Lions side there was apparently deep relief; the great Welshman Cliff Morgan reckoned that one of his teammates said out loud when he saw the ball fly wide, 'Hey boys! Thank goodness we all went to Chapel last Sunday!'
Recently I found out a lot more about Jack van der Schyff. And it is quite a story. In those dark days of South Africa's apartheid policies he was a man of colour. And the missed kick here seemed to play a role in his future life. And concerning THAT kick; though he had landed four other successful shots at goal in the same game, the miss cost him his place in the Springbok story. He never pulled on the South African colours again.
This from the writings of great Danie Craven; "Jack van der Schyff was undoubtedly badly treated by the selectors. He first came to my attention in Kimberley where I commanded a physical training battalion during the war. I had seen him playing for Kimberley Boys High against C.B.C. and other schools in the area and I saw him land kick after kick from the halfway line and further out.
One day he walked into my office wanting to join the battalion. I told him: "Jack, you can play for any first rugby team in Kimberley but I have on my staff a man named Ronnie Ackerman who has played for England. You will not be able to take his place in our first team." But Jack played on with us and with the retirement of Ackerman he moved up to the first XV. Jack was so good he eventually made the Springboks for all four tests against the All Blacks in 1949."
This from another writer; "Jack was part-black, sufficient enough that rugby officials (and obviously the South African government when it introduced the Group Areas Act and other assorted apartheid legislation from 1948 onwards) looked the other way. The fact that he had so called Bantu heritage but could still play for the Springboks in the 50's tells you all you need to know about the absurdity and pointlessness of apartheid. It was a ridiculous and an inhumane farce masquerading as social policy."
Jack van der Schyff died in 2001.
In one published obituary his missed kick and its aftermath - and the photograph - was recalled.
"The big, running fullback who played his provincial rugby for Griquas, Western Transvaal and Rhodesia, will be buried on Thursday.
Van der Schyff, who died at the weekend, had a bypass operation several years ago and his health remained poor.
His worst moment in rugby was captured in a photograph from in front of the posts showing the kicker in the foreground turning away, his head bowed in disappointment. The ball in the famous photograph is passing to the left of the uprights.
As a result of the missed conversion the British Lions won the 1955 Ellis Park test by one point, 23-22, and the kicker, Jack van der Schyff, after this match never wore the green-and-gold jersey again.
Van der Schyff played all four tests against the 1949 All Blacks in South Africa but soon after that he was involved in a mine accident and headed north, spending time in Kitwe in Northern Rhodesia, on what was to become the Zambian Copper Belt.
There he indulged his passion for hunting big game, including crocodiles and elephant.
According to his good friend Daan du Toit who employed him in later life, Van der Schyff met Joan whom he later married while working in Zambia.
In 1954 the two returned to South Africa to get married and in 1955 Van der Schyff was chosen out of the blue to face Robin Thompson's Lions in the first of four tests.
The Ellis Park test aroused phenomenal interest, sales on the black market flourished and a crowd of between 90 000 and 100 000 watched the match.
"I remember him telling me that just before he took that kick he was involved in a terrific tackle," says Du Toit. "One guy got him round the shoulders and another player around the ankles and he was dizzy.
"He told Stephen Fry, the Springbok captain, that he didn't want to take the kick, but Fry said: 'No, you must kick'. He took the kick and we all know what happened after that."
According to Tommy Gentles, the scrumhalf who kept the ball steady before Van der Schyff attempted that fateful conversion, he remembers no such incident, although he didn't say that it never happened. "I just remember that match as a marvellous game of rugby," said Gentles.
"Jack always used to say that I held the ball skew and I used to tell him that it was his kicking that was at fault!"
Despite being shunned by the national selectors after that, Van der Schyff continued playing provincial and club rugby. "I played with him in his last game of club rugby, for the Old Waterpan club in Randfontein," says Du Toit.
"We were in the second team together. I was just a donkey in the front row, but old Jack was a fine player. Earlier in his career they wanted to play him on the flank. He would clap his hands for the ball sometimes when his team was putting the ball into the scrum. The scrumhalf would pass straight to him at fullback and he would drop it over the posts."
After his international rugby career Van der Schyff worked as a shift-boss on the Deelkraal mine in Carletonville. Later Du Toit employed him as a driver.
[www.keithquinnrugby.com adds - see elsewhere on this 'Favourite Photos' website how I loved seeing the location of the famous shot for myself - The perfect advertising brand placement was still in place when i visited the Ellis Park ground as a young reporter in 1976, 21 years after the famous photograph.
Arguably he was the slowest back on the field but nothing could stop the flying Mortlock; his try that greatly assisted the Aussies in their 22-10 sensational dispatch of the All Blacks.
South-West Africa and South Africa
38 internationals for Sth Africa 1965–76
Along with the tight-loose forward Frik du Preez, flanker Jan Ellis shared for many years the record for most test matches played by a South African. They played in an age when such a total was considered huge.
Ellis came from far-flung South-West Africa (now independent Namibia) where the nearest rugby club was 60 miles (100 km) away. His keenness and determination to play the game soon built into a talent that was recognised in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, the main centres of South African rugby.
Ellis made the first of his 38 test appearances for the Springboks in New Zealand in 1965. He played modestly for the first six or seven games, but then he discovered his own strength and speed and by tour’s end he was one of the most improved players in the team. Thereafter his powerful running from loose play and strong tackling made him a regular in Springbok sides.
He played many of his tests in the politically-charged atmosphere of anti-apartheid protests, but if such demonstrations worried Ellis it was never seen. His play was always of a consistently high standard.
In 1976 Ellis equalled Frik du Preez’s total of 38 internationals, but was denied the chance to beat the record when he was dropped from the Springboks team after the first test against the All Blacks.
In 1987 and 2011 the All Blacks were the first rugby nation to win the World Cup twice; but which country was the first to win the World Cup's THIRD place match twice?
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