St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Rugby St George's Park - No win, no takings in last clash at Crusaders
No win, no takings in last clash at Crusaders
Ivor Markman

WHEN the Eastern Province and Western Province rugby teams run onto one of South Africa‘s most famous fields, the Crusaders ground in St George‘s Park next Saturday, it will bring back many memories for older Port Elizabeth residents. August 29, 1959, was a sad day for Port Elizabeth rugby fans. The move to the Boet Erasmus Stadium was the result of friction within the EP Rugby Football Union (EPRFU), with the Afrikaans majority not wanting to play at an “English” venue.
As if it was not bad enough that it was the last interprovincial rugby match scheduled to be played at the field, EP, playing their 13th game of the season, lost 21-14 to Transvaal – and to add insult to injury, the gate takings of £1700 were stolen from the EPRFU‘s office.

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FULLBACK...The late Springbok fullback Mickey Gerber played for Transvaal during the Eastern Province / Transvaal rugby match in 1959.
Even though on paper the Transvaal side appeared to be stronger, fans and media felt EP, under captain Richard Johnson, stood a good chance of winning. The last time EP had played against Transvaal was in 1952 when they won – and the players were keen to repeat the result and satisfy their seven-year-itch.

The team also wanted to end up in the top four of the 15-team Currie Cup log. This would be a notable achievement, as three of their four defeats in the then two-year competition were suffered when the badly depleted team played away from home.

In 1959, Eastern Province was the only team that beat Western Province during the Currie Cup season.

The teams were filled with good players, including Springbok Mickey Gerber at fullback for Tvl, (He played for EP the previous year.) while Junior Springbok wing Michel Antelme played alongside junior trialist wing (later Springbok) Hennie van Zyl for Transvaal. Springbok Jeremy Nel was at centre for Transvaal and Springbok Natie Rens was at flyhalf. There were strong forwards playing as well, with Springboks Martin Pelser, Dawie Ackermann and Johan Steenkamp in the Transvaal pack.

The EP front row had Springbok cricketer Athol McKinnon, Derek van der Berg and Lloyd Vincent, who were expected to perform well.

EP centre Danie Pienaar, a Grey High School athletics master, unfortunately dropped out as his duties at school would not allow him to play. Pierre van Niekerk took his place.

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FLYHALF...Springbok flyhalf Natie Rens played for Transvaal against EP during the last interprovincial rugby match at the Crusaders field in 1959.
If Vincent, Aubrey Hughes and Van Niekerk saw that Jon Walker and Dolf van Molendorff got the ball to the wings, there was plenty of reason to believe EP would win.

Mickey Gerber kicked a beautiful touch in the opening minute and put Transvaal on the defensive.

When Transvaal were blown for off-sides, Vernon Vincent kicked a lovely penalty that gave EP a three-point lead.

Shortly afterwards, Transvaal scrumhalf Foxcroft broke from a lineout and made good ground. He passed the ball to Steenkamp who dived over the tryline and scored. The try was converted by Rens and Transvaal were up 5-3.

There was a terrible three-minute period in the middle of the first half when Vaalies Jeremy Nel and Martin Pelser broke through EP‘s defence to score tries. Pelser scored after a superb 55-metre sprint with the EP defence unable to catch up. Rens converted both tries for Transvaal, who now led 15-3.

Just before half-time, McKinnon kicked a brilliant penalty from the touchline, 27 metres from the Vaalie tryline.

Fears of a disaster for EP were dispelled in the second half when they came back with a vengeance.

Vincent electrified the crowd with a blindside break. He kicked into touch, placing EP in a strong scoring position.

Vincent kicked through a gap with Van Molendorff taking advantage, gathering up the ball and going over for a try. Vincent converted to bring the score to 15-14.

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TACKLED...Eastern Province back Charlie Robinson stops a Transvaal surge towards the tryline during the last interprovincial match at the Crusaders ground in 1959.
Had EP skipper Johnson not injured his arm at this stage, EP might have been able to press on to victory. While he was having his injury attended to, Rens grabbed the ball after a long Vaalie throw-in.

He passed to Nel, who passed to Antelme, who crashed over for a try in the corner, bringing the score to 18-14. Rens failed to convert the kick but soon afterwards put over a penalty, bringing the final score to 21-14.

Although their backs had flashes of brilliance, Transvaal were not playing as well as expected, while EP‘s tackling was on the ball.

EP eighth man Grundlingh, Griesel, Du Preez and Vincent played brilliantly in the loose rucks. Hooker Van den Berg played splendidly and secured the ball for EP in tight scrums when there were only seven forwards. However, he also made some costly mistakes.

“We were more worried about this game than about Western Province at Newlands,” said Transvaal manager Gus Ackermann, “and when you chaps crept up to 15-14 and Vincent was shaping for that vital penalty goal, I realised our fears were justified.”

As if the loss of the game was not bad enough for Eastern Province, when groundsman Willie Mahuwa arrived at work the following morning, he saw open doors and two broken windows. He called EPRFU secretary RS Killian, who found the office in a shambles. Shattered glass covered the floor and the heavy wire-grill type burglar bars had been wrenched from the wall. The filing cabinet had been shoved into the centre of the room, desk drawers were open and the safe, containing £1700, was missing. It was found later in the day 13km away near Missionvale, largely empty.

Source: Evening Post

The Herald
May 5, 2009

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