GLENN “The Spade” de Graaf will go down in the annals of Maritzburg College rugby history as one of the greatest finishers ever to grace the revered turf of Goldstones. It’s a wonderful story.
I was in third form… in the first term of the year 1978… every day there was a giant training on his own on AB Jackson’s outer hockey fields alongside Shepstone House (now Hudson’s) and the San (now utilised for a related purpose). This Mufasa, a King of the Border Beasts (to a 3rd form dayboy anyway) pushing a cricket roller up & down, up & down… “Who is he,” I asked my matric brother, Graham. “Him? That’s Spade,” was the quick response.
“Why did his parents call him Spade? That’s a weird first name?” (Cue matric elder brother with a long-suffering sigh… “It’s a nickname, fool; look up ‘graaf’ in your Tweetalige Woordeboek.” (see, Millennials, we didn’t have uncle Google OK okay?).
(Please note, my brother Gra’ would never, ever, talk to me like that – but, in the interests of the dramatic moment one must do what one must do… sorry Gra’ hope you understand…).
Graaf (said my mustard-coloured little textbook), beteken in Engels die volgende: ‘bury, drive, cut, put down, spade…’
That was it: For an impressionable young mind, here was, up close (but never too-oo close) and personal a Superman… (aka Clark Kent, sans the glasses), a BA ‘Bad Attitude’ Baracus, The Incredible Hulk, Tarzan, Jet Jungle all rolled into one… – awesome… – package.
“Why’s he pushing the cricket roller every day?” I asked Gra’.
“Spade wants to make firsts.”
Done & Dusted (again)… This was my man… Every game, sitting on Basher Ridge, the first player I looked for on Goldstones… aaaah, all’s well, there’s Spade.
Probably the revelation of the 78 KZN schoolboy season was one Glenn “Spade de Graaf: Here’s his story – all the way from his home in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Thanks for asking me about my recollections of those days, Jono. My younger brother Piet gave me the College Yearbook this past weekend while visiting him. Piet lives quite a drive away from me. Great timing.”
When asked about how Glenn got involved in rugby, here’s the response: “I was a late bloomer, only started playing rugby when I was 15. Soccer was my first love. All of a sudden I found myself in this perfect setting in my matric year.”
The rest is history. After a flawless season, loose forward and captain Guy Pickering’s Team of 78 later went on to be rated by legendary Maritzburg College coach Skonk Nicholson as one of his top 3 first XV teams – a considered opinion by the great man over the span of a scarcely believable four decades at the helm of the Red Black and White’s flagship rugby team.
If I remember correctly, that epic Skonk Nicholson Friday Night so ably organised by Peter Rodseth, saw Skonk reveal that the other first XV’s in his Top 3 were prop forward Dave Anderson’s (?) 1963 (or 64?) Invincibles and scrumhalf Roy Davidson’s Dream Team of 1972 that included a fearsome guy nicknamed “Growler” (?), the legendary prop forward Pip Anderson (?), loose forwards (and 73 captain) Brian Dennison, Peter Dove (?) and Graham Whitelaw (?) with the silky-smooth, brilliant schoolboy sporting talent Neville Daniels orchestrating the 72 symphony at flyhalf.
Here I record verbatim Skonk’s assessment of his favourite Spade… in the Great Man’s inimitable, classically – as always – understated prose…
Skonk on The Spade:
“G.C. de Graaf (Honours, Natal Schools) Blessed with a good turn of speed (not sure if the opposition would be so minimalist in that regard, says Jono) weight and strength (now that’s more like it, Skonk) eighthman de Graaf had a splendid season as an attacking No. 8 forward. He broke the College try-scoring record, but would be the first to admit that he owed much to the powerful College pack (*) who made it possible for him to capitalise on his undoubted assets. The quality possession which the forwards obtained often gave de Graaf space and time in which to get going, enabling him to score great tries. Quiet and unassuming as he was, he was nevertheless the right man in the right place in this particular team and he certainly made the most of his chances. He was deservedly awarded the Connie du Bois pin for the most improved player in the team.”
Here’s a précis of Skonk’s words on the formidable loose trio (more on the 1978 Maritzburg College first XV another day) of Pickering, Steve Colenbrander and The Spade: “To cap it all, the exceptional tight five were complemented by three outstanding loose forwards who hunted together… their speed enabled them to take command of many second-phase activities. Pickering and Colenbrander never spared themselves, both in attack and defence… De Graaf had an outstanding season. His speed, strength and determined driving for the tryline brought him 23 tries (in 13 matches) – a new school record. The previous record of 21 tries was held by *Andy van der Watt of the great 1963 side.”
Andy went on to play for the Springboks (more on Andy van der Watt at the foot of this text) before a distinguished career at Hilton College, the schoolmaster coaching some great Hilton sides that included Gary Teichmann, Bob Skinstad and Wayne Fyvie.
Back to Spade: “Skonk was a great coach. We had the best tight five a loose forward could ask for.”
– My two most memorable games were two away games – against DHS on Van Heerdens and Glenwood on Dixons.
“The Glenwood game, I tried something I’d never done before. With our scrum going forward I put the ball between my feet and hopped with it, like a rabbit. This enabled me to have better control.”
Spade’s best try? “That away game against Glenwood. We won a lineout ball on Glenwood’s 10-metre line. Then I somehow joined the backline, between the centres, and sprinted in for a try. How I got into that position to score, God alone knows.”
One of the great 78 games, one that will rank among the best in the two schools’ long history, took place on Van Heerdens 20th May.
The Spade versus DHS captain & No. 8 Mike Barker muscle-up was hyped to fever pitch… us 3rd formers heard rumours of death threats delivered by post, all-out war…
To us wide-eyed juniors it was a spellbinding, gripping, edge-of-your-seat (I’ve run out of adjectives) Thrilla… which far outshone anything that “The (self-proclaimed) Greatest”, Muhammad Ali, and Smokin’ Joe Frazier ever put on 3 years earlier in Manilla.
The powerfully-built Barks (now a strength & conditioning coach… SURPRISE, LOL!), who played SA Schools flank that year alongside Wahl Bartman’s elder brother, Leon, and number 8 Jan “Bully” Serfontein of EP fame, inspired a great opening spell by School, smashing through for an early touchdown.
With the cultured boot of classy DHS flyhalf Daryl Scott matching College place-kicking points machine Adrian Mitchell (RIP) point for point, it was MC 13 DHS 12 with 15 minutes left.
The College pack of 8 – rated by Skonk as, “Surely one of the very best, possibly the best, ever to wear Maritzburg College rugby colours.” – then properly got the better of Barks’ fine pack, which had, also, so impressed DHS Old Boy Skonk, and The Spade stamped down the 19-12 win with his third try of the match.
“This was a great game watched by a large crowd,” said the typically understated Skonk (trust me, Skonk, it was massive on both counts).
THE SPADE ON BARKS: “My personal experience playing against Barks the first game at their field was pretty weird. I was so nervous before the game my nose started bleeding and I felt weak. I was unable to travel with the team and got a ride up to the game later, just in time for the game.
“I remember standing in the first lineout and Barks said to me, “So you’re the big College eighthman! Then he ran into me head-to-head and I thought it was a bus. After that, I hit a switch and I didn’t care… just started to do my thing. That was the toughest pack we faced, but finally we wore them down.
“One last thing. Barks and myself hit it off while playing for Natal Schools and have been friends ever since. Great guy to have as a friend.”
(Jono says, ‘not a great guy to have as an enemy’).
BARKS ON SPADE: “Jono, first up… If (death) letters were sent, it was unbeknown to me. Now that’s out the way, let’s talk about Spade… The College pack very well drilled – I’m sure the odd intimidating utter was made to each other, especially at the back of the lineouts… (If you recall, dear reader, as number eights Spade and Barks were both at the back of the lineouts… go figure).
Back to Barks: “Spade was always the standout College forward, and by hook or by crook we had to find a way of dealing with his talent. Yes, we became good friends. I even went to a few Rovers (Barks played for arch-rivals Durban Collegians) pre-season practices because he was there. Spade had this big company car, the latest Mustang, so we terrorised Durban, driving around in the Mustang. Yes, Spade and I are good mates.
“Yip, I should have listened to Spade and gone to the USA; and qualified as a legal bone manipulator lol!”
(Please note, dear reader, in the interests of painting the picture wielding the most dramatic of brushstrokes, I have embroidered Barks’ courteous answers to my questions on matters Spade…).
“Barks, even if it’s just for the sake of my hoped-for longevity, pleeeeese forgive me, big guy.”
A last word on Barks/Spade from Spade: “Barks obviously became one of my best friends and I hope to see him while in SA for our Maritzburg College Class of 1978 40th Reunion, which is always fun. Steve Glendinning is picking me up from the airport and we will be traveling up to Pietermaritzburg together. It’s amazing how someone can still have a bond with guys 40 years later. Not just the players but also the rest of the class.”
# (It’s the magic of KZN10 schoolboy rugby and the 10 fine KZN schools, Spade).
When asked if he had to choose a KZN10 rugby school of preference, had his folks not sent him to the home of the Red Black & White, the Glenn de Graaf response… and further comments, was respectful and revealing.
“They are all fine rugby schools, but I personally could not think of any other school I would like to have played for, although the Voortrekker (Voortrekker Hoërskool/High School… now dual-medium) first team were pretty intimidating.
“In the change-room before the 1978 College/Vories game, Skonk stood on a bench while we did the famous/infamous (depending on which side of the halfway line you were going to be, I guess…) war cry, working ourselves into a frenzy before taking the field. It must have been very scary for the opposition to hear.
“The guy that transformed the most was our easy-going, smiling lock, Sandy Clouston. Both Sandy and (fellow lock) Steve Glendinning’s faces would change colour, with (flank) Steve Colenbrander frothing at the mouth!
“Steve (Colenbrander) and I had a ritual of going out every Friday night, on the eve of a game, for a banana-split ice cream. After games we the first team would all go out together for a few beers. I remember once we were celebrating and a master from our school walked in. Out of respect we all got up and went to another pub.”
– Jono says, hope that’s still the case among the current-day KZN10 first XV boys lol!
It’s now 40 years on. When asked to name his 78 team, Spade’s response was immediate:
“Guy Pickering (flanker, our captain), Grant Acutt (outside centre), Swazi Meyer (tighthead), Stu Dixon (right wing), Andy Torr (flyhalf), Steve Colenbrander (flanker), Sandy Clouston (lock), Adrian Mitchell (fullback), Patch Furniss (our head prefect, inside centre), Dave Mills (loosehead, SA Schools), Steve Glendinning (lock, Nat Schools), Craig Jamieson (scrumhalf, Nat Schools & MC ’79 captain), myself, Mike Kempe (hooker), Bruce Durham (left wing).
“(Mike) Kemps had these boots that curled up in front. It was always funny watching him do the throw-ins at lineouts with the front of his boots curling up. Plus I think they were at least one size too big. I’ll send you a picture.”
Here’s the picture:
* Skonk said the most unfortunate player of 78 was injured 10 Colin Crick.
—– Of the Red Black White side of 78, Spade had this to say:
“We had a tight five second to none, which made us loosies look good. In my opinion all five should have made Natal Schools.
“We also had a great scrumhalf, a smart flyhalf, two solid centres who loved to tackle, sturdy wings and a dynamic fullback in Adrian Mitchell (RIP) who was not only was a great goalkicker (180 points, breaking the long-standing record of Toffee Sharp… and still the all-time MC points-scoring record in a season) but also an exceptional playmaker.
“The team as a whole was very united, with no egos, and got on very well with one another. We would always get together after the games. We had the Coach Of All Coaches. I can still remember Skonk saying to me, ‘de Graaf, believe in yourself,’ something I carried through into my post-school life. Skonk had this uncanny knack of always pressing the right buttons.
“Then we had captain Guy Pickering, never shouted… But, damn! Did he know how to get to a ball – tough as nails – Steve Colenbrander right there with him. Craig Jamieson was more the vocal one, always pushing us. Even when tackled he somehow always managed to stay on his feet, giving us a chance to keep the play going.
“When a team keeps going forward, the ball out of sight of the opposition and no way to get it… the opposition constantly going backwards, always retreating, it must have been very demoralising for our opponents…”
Jono: “Thanks Glenn, this was very special to me, very personal.”
“Anytime, Jono. I’m looking forward to the Class of 78’s 40th on Old Boys Day, August 4.”
That’ll be a reminisce like no other. KZN10.com will try be a fly on the wall.
* Glenn’s family all live in the USA.
– Spade’s eldest brother, Henk (MC Class of 81) like his elder brother Spade, is also a chiropractor in Augusta, Georgia, home of one of the four Majors, The Masters, and treats several U.S. Golf Tour professionals.
– Spade’s second-eldest brother, Piet – is CFO for one of the Proctor&Gamble (an American-based multi-national consumer goods corporation) divisions, and resides about 2 hours away, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
– Spade’s sister, Fern, who went to College’s sister school, Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High, is a teacher just outside Atlanta.
– Spade’s youngest brother, Jake, lives in Spain and is the third of the de Graaf chiropractors.
*** Spade’s Last Word: “Our mother, Anne, is the backbone of the family. Mom lives just outside of lovely Charleston in South Carolina. Skonk and my mother always had a strong relationship. He would always tease her in the nicest possible way.”
KZN10.com says: “Thanks once again, Glenn, for being so helpful, patient and willing, when asked to share your remarkable story. You, through a steadfast belief that you could contribute, add value, make a difference, if selected for the 78 firsts, plus your family’s individual and collective journey, embodies all that is great in the pioneering spirit of our country’s forefathers.”
(*) More on the 1978 Maritzburg College first XV another day.
# Born in Krugersdorp, Andy van der Watt went to Maritzburg College in the days of the great Skonk Nicholson, played for Natal Schools at the first Craven Week, in 1964, and then, after the Air Force Gymnasium, went to Stellenbosch University in the days of the great Danie Craven, small wonder that when he was a schoolmaster at Hilton College he coached the rugby with great zest. He was the Hilton coach when Gary Teichmann, Bob Skinstad and Wayne Fyvie were at the famous school.
Maritzburg College Old Boy Andy van der Watt represented Western Province, Border and Natal, and played wing for the Springboks on the 1969-70 tour playing in 17 of the 24 matches, including the Tests against England and Ireland.
Edited from rugby365