A game like you've never seen before
As we build towards the naming of the Springbok squad for the World Cup, we felt the need to revive a very popular, previously published alternative XV.
We had so much fun finding celebrities who have links with Rugby Union – most of whom actually played the game at some stage in their lives – that we took it one step further.
Not only did we select a World Celebrity XV, but we named a South African selection to oppose them in a match like you have never seen before.
Because it is such a special occasion, the game will be played on Robben Island – a venue where many of South Africa’s struggle heroes played the game during more than two decades of incarceration.
It is a ‘home’ game for SA.
So here goes!
South African XV:
No.15: Raymond Ackerman. The founder of Africa’s largest supermarket chain, which he started up after being fired by another chain, the tycoon was a genuine fullback even from his schoolboy days. A real rock on defence and brilliant on the counter … just ask those who fired him back in 1966.
No.14: Bantu Holomisa. When he played rugby in his youth he was a genuine wing. We named him on the ‘right’, because he was not always ‘left enough’ for the ANC. In 1994 Holomisa was elected to the ANC National Executive, but after testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he was expelled from the ANC. He then co-founded the UDM with Roelf Meyer.
No.13: Jack Hirsch. The 1906-07 Springbok tour was a watershed in South African sport. It was the first overseas tour by a South African Rugby Union team and he was central to the Bok cause. He later became a member of parliament.
No.12: Franky Waring. A snappy midfielder when he toured with the Springboks in 1931/32, Waring later became the minister of sport and one of the first English-speaking cabinet ministers from the National Party.
No.11: Thulani Mabaso. The legendary ANC fighter and former political prisoner is very familiar with the Robben Island pitch, where he played on the wing and he will readily entertain you with tales of those games with armed security guards as spectators. He was certainly more ‘left’ than Holomisa.
No.10: Gordon Herbert Waddell. He may have played all his rugby in the United Kingdom – he played for Scotland, the Barbarians and went on two British and Irish Lions tours (the only Scottish flyhalf to be a double Lion) – but he made his mark as a businessman in South Africa and was elected to the South African Parliament in April 1974 by winning the constituency of Johannesburg North for the Progressive Party. As a former chairman of South African Breweries he will be a a handy addition to our team.
No.9: Dawie de Villiers. Despite being a member of the National Party, he was regarded as leftist by his peers and was once condemned for his ‘radical’ stance against the NP. Yet, he ended being a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond. He completed an undergraduate degree in Theology and an Honours in Philosophy. As a former Springbok captain – having lead the Boks to a 3-1 series win over the All Black in 1970 – his rugby credentials are beyond reproach.
No.8: Steve Vukile Tshwete. ‘Mr. Fixit’ was the Minister of Sport and Recreation and later Minister of Safety and Security. Also a member of the ANC’s Politico-Military Council secretariat and Army Commissar of MK. Tshwete was very active in the game – a delegate of the Spring Rose Rugby Football Club at the GOMPO Rugby Union and later on Robben Island he was President of the IRB (Island Rugby Board).
No.7: Brett Shuttleworth. The ‘openside’ of the team. He has done it all – from professional sportsman to international supermodel, Hollywood actor (he even featured in American Pie 2), celebrated businessman to motivational entertainer. Born in Newcastle, he represented his province in five separate sports at schools level. At the age of 22, whilst playing rugby, an American sport scout in Durban recruited him to play in America. He was the first professional rugby player to receive a visa to the United States by way of the “alien of extraordinary ability” petition.
No.6. Nelson Mandela (captain). No South African team is complete without Madiba. The former President of South Africa first showed his leadership as a founder of Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation). After 27 years of incarceration – most of those on Robben Island – he managed to realise his dream of a “democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”. Not only did Rolihlahla Mandela win the Nobel Peace Prize, he voted for the first time in his life on 27 April 1994 and on 10 May 1994 he was inaugurated South Africa’s first democratically elected President. While he took an interest in boxing and running at the school, his most famous sporting moment will always be when he wore Bok captain Francois Pienaar’s No.6 shirt at the 1995 World Cup Final.
No.5: Ernie Els. The ‘Big Easy’ was discouraged from playing rugby when his mother convinced a doctor to exaggerate the extent of an arm injury he suffered in a school match. He also played cricket at school. However, he was eventually ‘encouraged’ to take golf more serious and went on to win four majors – the US Open in 1994 and 1997, as well as The Open Championship in 2002 and 2012. His calm demeanour will be invaluable in the ‘set pieces’.
No.4: Owen Cardinal McCann. Believe it or not, the Archbishop of Cape Town – the first South African to receive the red hat, when he joined the College of Cardinals, the body that elects a new pope, in 1965 – actually played for the Hamiltons club in Cape Town. At his funeral in 1994 President Nelson Mandela described Cardinal McCann as “one of South Africa’s great sons”.
No.3: Ngconde Balfour. We needed some bulk in the front row and his fondness for pugilistic matters means the former Minister of Sport is not scared of a good scrap. In fact he had a few pow-wows with rugby bosses in his day – including one very famous scrap with former SARFU boss Louis Luyt.
No.2: Willem Delport. A shrewd businessman who was described as “a brilliant intelligent man, but a bit of a cowboy”, he made his mark on the field as a member of the famous 1951/52 Springbok touring team to the United Kingdom and Ireland, said to be one of the best squads ever to leave South Africa’s shores.
No.1: Paul Roos. How can we select a team without naming the man that is credited with giving South Africa’s national team the moniker of ‘Springboks’. He was not only captain of the 1906 Springbokken, but later landed up in parliament, where it is said he only ever made one speech. He was indeed a prop.
Coach: Gen. CF Beyers – the Anglo-Boer War general.
Media manager: JM Coetzee. Having won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he’ll fit in well at SARU with his ‘willingness’ to communicate.
* This week’s podcast …
No.15: Che Guevara. Ernesto R. Guevara de la Serna (his real name) remains both a revered and reviled historical figure – often equated with rebellion, revolution, and socialism, or for the ruthless manner in which he ordered prisoners executed without trial in Cuba. It might come as a surprise to some to discover that the most celebrated revolutionary of all was a diehard rugby enthusiast and played for Club Universitario de Buenos Aires as flyhalf, but we moved him to fullback. His rugby playing earned him the nickname “Fuser” – a contraction of El Furibundo (raging) and his mother’s surname, de la Serna – for his aggressive style of play. He was also one of the first rugby journalists in Argentina, where he ran a weekly magazine called ‘Tackle’.
No.14: James Joyce. While best known as an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century, it was in his work ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ that he described what it was like to be out on the wing in schoolboy rugby.
No.13: Prince Edward. The Earl of Wessex played for the second XV at Jesus College, Cambridge. Like most royals, he is good at spotting a gap, but we won’t say too much about his formal education – apparently his A-level grades were far below the standard normally required for entry to the university.
No.12: Richard Harris. He is perhaps best known for his role as King Arthur in the 1967 film Camelot and the subsequent 1982 Broadway revival of the show, as well as playing Albus Dumbledore in the first two films in the Harry Potter series. However, he was a talented rugby player and was on several Munster Junior and Senior Cup teams. It is said that he was on the fringes of Irish selection. At the height of his stardom in the 1960s and 1970s he was almost as well known for his hellraiser lifestyle and heavy drinking as he was for his considerable abilities as an actor. We do need somebody to ‘liven up’ the post-match party.
No.11: Keith Holyoake. The former Prime Minister of New Zealand was by all accounts a very good player at school, but it was his decision to call off the 1967 All Black tour to South Africa – over SA’s apartheid policies – that earned the politician the ‘left wing’ spot in our team. He is the only person to have been both Prime Minister and Governor-General of New Zealand.
No.10: Richard Burton. He has both the main requirements to be flyhalf in our team – he is Welsh and a pretty boy. Nominated seven times for an Academy Award, six of which were for Best Actor in a Leading Role (without ever winning), Burton had a consuming interest in sports – in fact famous Welsh centre Bleddyn Williams said in his autobiography that Burton could have gone far as a rugby player. He later said: “I would rather have played for Wales at Cardiff Arms Park than Hamlet at the Old Vic.”
No.9: Russell Crowe. We must have at least one player with dual claims – to both sides of the Tasman Sea – and a Rugby League ‘convert’ in our team. The New Zealand-born Australian actor, film producer and musician is a true ‘Gladiator’. In fact he is famous for organising rugby tournaments during ‘lazy days’ on movie sets and is still heavily involved as owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
No.8: Jacques Chirac. Despite his shady political career – the former French President was found guilty of diverting public funds and abusing public confidence in 2011 – we feel the man nicknamed “le bulldozer” is the ideal fit in our back row. Once quoted as saying “rugby is a metaphor for life”, Chirac played Rugby Union for Brive’s youth team, and also played at the Paris Institute for Political Studies. He played No.8 and lock.
No.7: Edmund Hillary. Along with his Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay, they became the first climbers confirmed as having reached the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary played for Auckland Grammar School. Maybe not the most imposing physique, but as tough as teak … exactly how we want from our loose forwards.
No.6: Javier Bardem. The Spanish actor, Javier Ángel Encinas Bardem, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as psychopathic assassin Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Apparently he learned English from AC/DC songs. He was good enough to play on the flank and at lock for Spain’s Under-21 team, but stopped playing the sport when he was 23. He was once quoted as saying: “Playing rugby in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan.”
No.5: André René Roussimoff. Best known as André the Giant, this French professional wrestler and actor of Bulgarian and Polish descent was often billed as “Géant Ferré”. He suffered from acromegaly, a hormonal disorder that results when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone. As the Giant grew up very quickly, he reached the height of six feet three inches (1.92m) by the age of 12. At age 14 he obtained a job with a furniture-moving firm and began to play rugby. However, at 17 he was seen training at a gym by several professional wrestlers, who convinced him to take up their sport. Roussimoff eventually stood seven feet, four inches (2.24 meters) in height.
No.4: Bill Clinton. He will be the team’s ‘enforcer’. After he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford – where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics – the former United States President developed an interest in Rugby Union, playing at lock in the third and fourth teams. It has been claimed that he also played at Little Rock RFC in Arkansas, but they deny this. Clinton told the Sydney Morning Herald in 1996: “Being an American, I didn’t know any of the rules, but I was the biggest guy on the team, so the coach just said to me: ‘Clinton, go out there and get in someone’s way.’ So that’s what I did, just got in people’s way.”
No.3: Idi Amin Dada (captain). Having joined the British colonial regiment, the King’s African Rifles, he was taught the dark military arts that would later make him a despotic. During his time in the British army, powerfully built Amin was said to have been a formidable rugby forward, although one officer said of him: “Idi Amin is a splendid type and a good player, but virtually bone from the neck up, and needs things explained in words of one letter.” He also played for Nile RFC, but retired from the sport in order to focus full time on killing as many people as possible. He claimed the captaincy and had good support from fellow dictator Benito Mussolini.
No.2: Mariusz Zbigniew Pudzianowski. The rock of our front row, this Polish strongman and mixed martial artist won five World’s Strongest Man titles – more than any other athlete – as well as two runner-up titles. Pudzianowski is a very keen amateur Rugby Union player and plays with Blachy Pruszynski Budowlani Lódz.
No.1: Marvin Lee Aday. Better known by his stage name of Meatloaf, this team will rock, like a Bat Out of Hell. It has been difficult to confirm, but numerous reports claim he played US college rugby in the Northeast. That was enough for us.
Coach: Benito Mussolini. He was a rugby nut, who reportedly introduced rugby to Italy after seeing it in France in the 1920s. His pre-match speeches would be a highlight.
Media Manager: PG Wodehouse. Another fond of verbose expressions. He apparently wrote match reports for his school paper.
Referee: Baron Pierre de Courbetin. He was indeed a top referee.
Assistant referees: Jacques Rogge (the former President of the IOC was once a member of the Belgium’s national rugby side), George W. Bush (played rugby during junior and senior years at Yale)
TMO: Denis Thatcher (was a registered referee)
To sing the anthems:
South Africa:Steve Hofmeyr (will sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, not the Blue Bull song)
World XV Kristoffer ‘Kris’ Kristofferson (will sing World in Union, played rugby at Pomona College and credited with founding the Santa Monica Rugby Club)
* Now you name your celebrity XV!