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RIP: John Gainsford - A Great Man Passes

In his playing days Gainsford was the greatest centre in the world. He was also a great, great man. There cannot be many men in the world better than John Gainsford.


The cause of his death was cancer, which he fought against with determination, as he would any difficulty in life and then resigned himself to dying and did so cheerfully, for he was a man of powerful religious convictions but then he was a man of convictions, rather than opinions and had strong reasons for anything that he did. RIP: John Gainsford - A Great Man Passes

A few days before his death, he said to me: "God has been so unbelievably good to me. He has managed this illness so well."

And there was even time for a chuckle.

At dinner with John Willcox, a schoolmaster at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, who had played full back for the B&I Lions and England, a man renowned for his deadly tackling, he asked after John Gainsford. Then he said: "He beat me on the inside and I had never been beaten on the inside before, and I said to myself 'He won't do that again.' The next time he got the ball, he beat me on the outside."

Gainsford was energetic,  big and strong but with wonderful feet and powerful acceleration as he sprinted, head up and determined.

John was born in Germiston to John and Enid Gainsford. His mother had swum for New South Wales and was related to Wallabies Ron Bülmann and Cyril Burke. Gainsford grew up in Lansdowne and went to what was then Lansdowne High School and now is Windsor High, where he played hooker to start with and then scrumhalf and then centre. He was the star of the school, head boy, captain of rugby, excelling in cricket, athletics and academic. After school he went to the local club, Villagers and played centre. He was 19 when he played his first match for Western Province  and 20 when he went on the  Junior Springbok tour to Argentina in 1959 and 21 the next year when he played his first Test – against Scotland in Port Elizabeth.


Gainsford was a Province man through and through. He played for them 46 times, which was a vast number in those days, and he played from 1958 to 1967 without being dropped. He was the Province captain in 1966 when they won the Currie Cup. During the Currie Cup this season, as I was walking to Newlands, Gainsford phoned to tell me to tell my son John to get Province to make more of kick-offs, especially in putting pressure on the opposition.

In fact he wore a Springbok jersey more often than a Province jersey – 71 times in a career that included 33 Tests. When he was dropped against France in 1967, Syd Nomis took his place. When Gainsford heard the news on the radio, he immediately sent Nomis a telegram: "Say I'm sad, man, say I'm glad, man. Have a great game."

Gainsford played in 33 of the 34 Tests in his career, missing out against Ireland in 1961 because of an injury. He was the most capped Springbok back at the end of his career, drawing with Jannie Engelbrecht.

He did have a break from Province when he was working for an insurance company and was sent to Beaufort West to open a branch there. In 1962 and 1963 he played for South Western Districts along with Dave Stewart who was in Carnarvon. He and Stewart play five times as centre partners for South Africa, both ardent Villager men and firm friends. The two of them then teamed up with Jan Pickard in taking over Logans Sports and developing it. The other man in running the company was Eric Logan who died of cancer last month.RIP: John Gainsford - A Great Man Passes


Gainsford left Logans and was attached to another Pickard venture, Bellingham, and was its export director.

After his playing days Gainsford coached Western Province and still later was on the executive committee of the Western Province Rugby Union. In his playing, coaching and administrating he was never afraid to speak out and was often at loggerheads with the authorities. But he was also a loyal man  and, despite living in Paarl, would continue to serve Villagers, his club.

He also served the Anglican church in Paarl, spending time in their service.

John Leslie Gainsford married Shona Mae Murray of the sheep Murrays of Graaff-Reinet in January 1964. Shona survives him as do their four children, Murray, Lindsay, Kirk and Shona Leigh, and 11 grandchildren.

Meanwhile, SARU president Oregan Hoskins paid tribute to Gainsford.

"I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the Gainsford family for their loss. John was a superstar of his generation and he will go down in history as one of the greatest Springboks to have played the sport. He believed that rugby was played to be won, and he demonstrated this on the field with his line breaks, raw pace and power. I met him on many occasions. He was a great man," Hoskins said.

Paul Dobson

RIP: John Gainsford - A Great Man Passes

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