SOUTH Africa’s most successful rugby coach, Kitch Christie, died on Wednesday evening in Pretoria aged 58 after a long battle with cancer.
Christie’s coaching record is still unsurpassed, with 14 games played and 14 games won, he is the only South African coach apart from Nick Mallett to sport an unbeaten record as coach.
Christie was born on January 31 1940 in Johannesburg, and received his schooling at the Leith Academy in Edinburgh. He earned widespread respect among coaches and players for his rugby knowledge and the shrewdness with which he applied it.
A tough disciplinarian, Christie rescued South African rugby from the mire, building up the team that, for a euphoric few weeks, united the “rainbow nation” in his greatest moment, when he took the Springboks to their 15-12 victory over the New Zealand All Blacks in the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park.
He was sacked as coach after supporting his players in demands for changes to the rugby status quo, a blow from which South African rugby has yet to recover. Last year he was sacked again as coach of the Blue Bulls — while he lay ailing in hospital.
Although Christie’s condition deteriorated rapidly over the past few months, with pneumonia setting in this week, he was still involved in rugby, acting as adviser to the Gauteng Falcons.
He was admitted to St Mary’s hospital on Easter Sunday, and even then the prognosis was not good. Hospital staff said it looked as though Christie had lost his fighting spirit.
Christie leaves his wife, Judy and a teenage son, Clayton.
A biography written in his honour was entitled: Kitch, Triumph of a Decent Man.