All-rounders - rugby and .....
In this age when sporting seasons disappear, the all-rounder has also disappeared, his life gobbled by the year-long demands of one, professional sport. The all-rounder belonged to the innocent enthusiasm of the amateur.
Schalk Burger is a case in point. The 35-year-old rugby Springbok is now in the process of ending his magnificent playing career after 86 Tests and 123 Super Rugby matches plus many others for Western Province and his clubs – Maties in Stellenbosch Sungoliath in Japan and Saracens in England. A great player of immense popularity, he nearly gave up rugby at a young age, choosing cricket instead.
Burger’s schoolboy sporting career is a Boy’s Own Paper dream.
He scored his first birdie at the Paarl Golf Club when he was four, swam for Boland and was a Southern Cape backstroke champion, was a Western Province mountain bike champion, played tennis for his school’s first team and was set on a cricket career. When he was 14 and just starting high school, he scored his first century as an opening batsman. Still at school he opened the batting for the University of Stellenbosch’s 1st XI.
His week up in Rustenburg for Craven Week was interesting. On the Monday, Wednesday and Saturday he played rugby for the Boland Craven Week side. On the Tuesday and the Thursday he went across to Pretoria to take part in the South African Under-19 cricket trials.
Eventually, fate decided the outcome. He went from Paarl Gim to Stellenbosch University, and played in the first teams at rugby and cricket. In 2002, he was required to do a fitness test for the SA Under-19 Cricket team to tour Bangladesh but, just before that, he tore a bicep muscle playing rugby for his koshuis, Eendragt.
The next year we played in two big rugby competitions – the Under-21 World Championship in England and, in Australia, the Rugby World Cup.
He was an all-rounder all right, but the demands of each sport are now so great that he had to confine the fullness of his talents to one. If popularity/likeability were a sport, he would be of international standard in that, too.
Burger is not alone.
Elliot Daly may well have what it takes to play cricket for England, but he will not do so as long as he plays rugby for England. But then he does not play only for England; he also plays for Wasps. For Wasps he will start each season in July and go though to well into following May – and then play for England. For England he played this year in February, March, June and November. And then there are preseason preparations, including friendlies. He played cricket for England Under-15 and will not play cricket again for England, unless he makes a premature exit from rugby.
Jeff Wilson played rugby and cricket for New Zealand but had to interrupt his cricket career because of the demands of Super Rugby, returning to the New Zealand cricket side after he had retired from rugby.
In the days when seasons went from April to September and September to April, CB Fry could captain England at cricket, play soccer for England, play rugby for the Barbarians and set the world long jump record.
Tuppy Owen-Smith played cricket for South Africa and captained England at rugby. Clive van Ryneveld played rugby for England and captained South Africa at cricket. And there was enough time between matches to get excited. Picked as a bowler, Owen Smith scored a hundred runs before lunch at Headingley in 1929, setting a world record for a 10th wicket partnership of 103 with Sandy Bell.
CJ Rhodes’s private secretary, Sir William Milton, after whom the Zimbabwean school is named, and Frank Mitchell played rugby for England and cricket for South Africa. Mitchell also won a blue for athletics at Cambridge, but then fast wings have also been fast athletes – like Arthur Butler, Cyril Holmes, John Gregory and John Young of England and Attie van Heerden and Jaco Reinach of South Africa.
Jimmy Sinclair played rugby, cricket and soccer for South Africa. His cricket achievements were greatest – three successive centuries against the Australians in 1902, including his 104 scored in 80 minutes at Newlands.
Alf Richards captained South Africa at rugby, played cricket for South Africa and refereed a rugby Test. Biddy Anderson was similar – played rugby for South Africa, captained South Africa at cricket and refereed a Test match. HH Castens, whose nickname was Fatty, captained South Africa in the first-ever South African rugby Test, refereed the last Test in the same series and captained the first South African cricket team abroad, a team that did not play a Test.
Eric Tindill of New Zealand went one better. He played rugby and cricket for New Zealand, and then refereed rugby and umpired a cricket at Test level.
James Parke played centre for Ireland and was a star tennis player, representing Ireland in the Davis Cup and winning a silver medal at the 1908 Olympics, amongst other feats.
In 2003 Rudi van Vuuren played in two world cups for Namibia – the Rugby World Cup and the Cricket World Cup.
Another who mixed rugby and tennis, was tough fullback JPR Williams. He was also an all-rounder in rugby, being picked as a back and a forward. Danie Craven went further. He was a Springbok, scrumhalf, flyhalf, centre and fullback and was chosen as a No.8 in the second Test against Australia in 1937. In successive Tests against the Wallabies Craven had thus played centre, scrumhalf, flyhalf and No.8 That suggests all-round rugby ability.
There are many other great all-rounders but the last one we are going to focus on is a rare and not often recorded achiever.
Then there are the remarkable achievements of Stan Harris, who may just have been in some ways the greatest all-rounder of them all. Born in Somerset East in the Eastern Cape, he was educated at Bedford School. In 1914 he was playing for Pirates in Johannesburg and for Transvaal but joined Louis Botha’s forces on their 1914-15 campaign into what was then called German South West Africa, now Namibia. He then became a commissioned officer in the Royal Field Artillery and was badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme. During his recuperation, he took up ballroom dancing with international success. Recovered from his injuries he returned to battle in Flanders and Russia.
He joined up again in World War II and Lieutenant-Colonel Harris became a prisoner of war when the Japanese captured Singapore and spent an horrific three and a half years as a POW, including time building the notorious Thai-Burma Railway, the Railway of Death as it was called, in Siam, as Burma then was. Over 100 000 civilians and prisoners of war died in the construction of some 410 km of railway.
He was made CBE in 1947.
The variety of his sporting achievements happened between the wars.
As part of his rehabilitation from his Somme wounds, he took to ball dancing and went to the world amateur championship, coming first in the waltz.
In 1920 he turned down selection for the modern pentathlon at the Olympic Games to concentrate on his rugby.
In 1921, he won the South Africa amateur light-heavyweight boxing title.
In 1922, he was playing for Transvaal and in 1924, playing for Blackheath, he was chosen for the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa. Playing on the wing he scored a try in the fourth Test.
In 1931, he played tennis for South Africa in the Davis Cup and played at Wimbledon.
He played for England at polo, which was an Olympic sport in the 1920s and 1930s.
Stanley Wakefield Harris was born on 13 December 1894 and died in Kenilworth, Cape Town, on 3 October 1973. His life probably deserves a biography.