Rugby, Not a Sport, But a Religion.


There were only three English speakers in the same standard as me in the hostel, so naturally we gravitated towards friendship as there was safety in numbers, it was unwise to be caught alone as a so called ‘Rooinek’ or “red neck”, the name that we were called because Englishman’s necks always burned red in the severe African sun.

We spent a lot of time sitting in the highest branches of the Marula tree that grew in the playground that the hostel provided for the exclusive use of the boys, the girls played elsewhere. When the tree had leaves on it we were invisible from the ground and therefore safe until dinner. On the days that we had sport practice we were not safe even if there was a teacher present.

There were two sports offered, rugby and athletics. Athletics was a summer sport and most importantly not a contact sport well mostly not a contact sport. There were things like long jump, high jump, discus and the sprints that were definitely non-contact. The five hundred, one thousand, and cross country were very much contact sports as you would be pushed, shoved and trampled on if the opportunity arose. So we rooineks stuck to the non-contact variety.

Rugby season was another story. Rugby was a compulsory sport, every able bodied male youngster had to participate in this almost religious passion.

Strangely I excelled at it, being as small as I was, it was almost impossible to tackle me around the chest or neck, as most of the opposition were prone to do, also being small I could not bring the huge opposition that I faced down if I tackled them around the waist, so I learned that no matter how huge the opposition, if tackled around the ankles they had no option but to come crashing down to ground level, inevitably spilling the ball forward. Also I was surprisingly fast for my size, so I was made a wing.

The position furthest from the brute force of the scrum or mincer, it suited me fine. My friends were not as lucky, as they were slower and larger than me, at the end of every practice or game they returned to the hostel sporting either a black eye, bleeding nose or rake marks somewhere on their bodies or all three.

The attitude of most of the Afrikaans teachers, which up to then had been very anti-me, changed when the second term started and they noticed my ability to play their sacred game so well.

My little under eleven A team went unbeaten that season and that may have played a large part in their change of attitude. It did not help me in any way with the Afrikaans students in the hostel.

Up until that time my dormitory was in the main hostel block, with the other younger children, this was changed by the hostel master, and I was moved to one of the outside prefabricated barrack like buildings with the older boys and the rugby elite. Believe me when I say I could have done without the honour, I was the only rooinek or “Soutpiel”, as I was called by the Afrikaans students, in the place, so I was totally vulnerable. Soutpiel means one leg in Africa and one leg in England with the middle leg in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lots of Hugs and more,



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