Skonk, the Crow’s Nest… the Class of ’81 … Toffa’s tales…

“​THE ​R​ed​ B​lack and ​W​hite stands for family, friendship, tradition,​ ​shared values and an undying loyalty. I will never forget those days and still attend Old Boys Reunions from time to time​…​ and re-live that ​special ​feeling each time.”

The Toffa Hattingh story is remarkable for many reasons. Coming to Maritzburg College’s Nathan House as a wide-eyed boarder in 1977 – knowing absolutely no-one, must have been the biggest possible shock to the system of a ​13 year old. Yet four short years later Toffa left Maritzburg College as a hugely popular and deeply respected head prefect, Natal Schools’ lock forward, shot putt champion and a mean guitar player.

As Toffa’s time in the head prefect’s Crow’s Nest digs perched atop Clark House – and the Class of 81’s year – was nearing its close, the one and only Dave Dell, who was the senior teacher in charge of prefects, said in a meeting with us 1982 prefects-in-waiting that “Hattingh was the best Maritzburg College head prefect in 25 years.”


‘The fact that Skonk remembered my dad was extra motivation’


Featured image the Maritzburg College Foundation logo: Much of what Toffa says in this feature’s opening paragraph speaks of a culture, a community, its aspirations… captured in the success story that is the Maritzburg College Foundation. If you would like to know more, contact the Foundation at 033 345 9660 or go to


Toffa and his dad, Boet Hattingh (1951 first XV flyhalf) donated these special pieces of memorabilia to the Maritzburg College Museum, situated in one of the ​155-year-old school’s venerable red-brick buildings – a structure that the boys of decades back coined the ‘Crystal Palace’. Insets in the picture frame nearest Toffa feature his head prefect’s badge, a photo of Toffa’s dad, as well as one of his brother-in-law, head of Maritzburg College mathematics Piet Snyman, who coached the Maritzburg College first XV during a four-year period, from 2009 to 2012.

‘One Skonk story was about a lock forward with a bit of a boep called Vanderplank’


Christopher Willem Hattingh… the moniker “Toffa” stuck from toddler years when “Christopher” was a bit of a mouthful for young Hattingh, so in the manner so endearing of little kids young Christopher decided that Toffa was a better bet when introducing himself.

Brought up on his mom and dad’s trading store in deepest Zululand somewhere near-ish to Nongoma, Toffa’s primary school days were spent in an establishment where standards 1 (grade 1) to 5 (grade 7) consisted of a handful of rural children in a single classroom. Toffa’s gran was the teacher, most of the lessons were in Afrikaans. There was no team sport, obviously, so no rugby, no nothing apart from a bit of fun in the back yard with his mom, dad, and considerably older sisters Sally-Anne and Louise.

Toffa was in my standard 6 class. Knowing Toffa had no-one in the KZN capital to visit after the boarders’ compulsory morning church on Sundays, I invited this deeply sensitive, lost soul (okay, that’s a bit of writer’s licence) to come have Sunday lunches with the Cooks. Gradually, step by step, this country boy grew in confidence and blossomed into the esteemed young man who was chosen to lead the Maritzburg College pupil body in a quick-as-a-flash four years’ time.


‘… the ball hit the crossbar and bounded back onto his big belly…’


Now a senior member of the SA Air Force, who started his military career as a Parabat, here’s the (primarily rugby) story I invited Toffa to tell:

“The ​1981 Maritzburg College first XV played DHS home and away. We won both. The atmosphere was unbelievable… The game was over in what felt like seconds. The away game was extra special as it was my last game for College, my last game in the Red Black and White. I remember crying my eyes out as I ran onto Van Heerdens…

“I cannot recall any major parts of the games or the people… just know we were always about team effort. Individual performance was secondary. The fact that we did not wear numbers also struck a chord with me. Team first, we are one.”

‘Skonk was the greatest… Best scrum coach ever’


When asked to jog my fog-enshrouded memory as to who were regular members of the unbeaten 1981 Maritzburg College first team, Toffa didn’t hesitate for a second:

​”Fullback Clive Cole, right wing Keven Stander, centres Kevin Torlage, Ross Cooper (Mike White), left wing Mike Wessels, flyhalf Henry Coxwell (captain), scrumhalf Brett Walker (vice-captain), front-row Cliffy Torlage, Buster Mackenzie (hooker) and Lance ‘Skove’ Gold, locks (Mike) “Rab” Bode, (Dave “Toti” Waters) and myself, flanks Wayne Glover and Dave Slater-Kinghorn, Boetie Potgieter eighthman.”

Four members of that unbeaten side went on to play Craven Week – the devastating halfbacks Coxwell (vice-capt) and Walker, centre Kevin Torlage, and Toffa at lock. The talk amongst a number of knowledgeable KZN schoolboy rugby observers was that centre Ross Cooper might well have made that 1981 Nat Schools side had it not been for the injury that sadly cut short his season.

Let’s get back to Toffa and what it meant to him to represent the Red Black and White: “​To play for a school that many generations ​of College boys ​ha​d played for, was particularly special. I was coached by the same guy that coached my dad 30 years before, Skonk. The fact that Skonk remembered my dad was extra motivation.

“Skonk was the greatest. Would talk a lot and use examples from previous teams and players to make a point. Best scrum coach ever. I believe the current Boks could still benefit from his techniques.

“One Skonk story I always remember was about a lock forward with a bit of a boep called Vanderplank…

“Skonk wanted us to remember to follow up on kicks at posts. He said that Vanderplank religiously followed up on every kick and never had any luck … Until one day when the ball hit the crossbar and bounded back onto his big belly. He managed to hold on and fell over under the posts for a try. So Skonk’s lesson: “Always chase after a place-kick.”

Toffa says Skonk always spoke isiZulu and had a knack for spotting talent: “I remember one year (1980) he just disappeared from firsts and seconds practice on Goldstones… went walking down to the 5ths and 6ths practice. He returned with a small player from the 5ths (Louis Oosthuizen) who ended up playing first team flank.

“​The ​R​ed​ B​lack and ​W​hite stands for family, friendship, tradition,​ ​shared values and an undying loyalty. I will never forget those days and still attend Old Boys Reunions from time to time​…​ and re-live that ​special ​feeling each time.”

Thanks Toffs – for me personally you brought back memories that were quite emotional in parts.

*Prop forward Bertram Eustace Vanderplank was born in Melmoth (in Zululand terms not too-oooo far from Toffa’s childhood place lol) on 29 April 1894.

Mr Vanderplank of Eshowe Rugby Football Club and Natal (1924) was the fourth member of the 15 young men of the Red Black and White to represent the Springboks…

At the age of 30, Bertram propped the Bok scrum in a pair of Test matches – against the 1924 British Isles (now British &Irish Lions).

Bertram Eustace’s’s Bok debut was on South Africa’s own House of Pain… the Boet Erasmus Stadium in Port Elizabeth on 13 September 1924. His second – and last – Test match in the Green and Gold colours of South Africa was on the gentler turf of Newlands.

Clearly the Vanderplank determination that Skonk spoke of bore its just reward post-school…

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for all of our current KZN schoolboy rugby players who harbour Green & Gold ambitions.

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