Mail & Guardian

Rhinos charge into a league of their own

17 Mar 1995 00:00 | Staff Reporter

With a dose of South African wit and a whipping by the=20 British team, the local brand of rugby league kicked=20 off last week

RUGBY LEAGUE: Luke Alfred

THE recent test between the Rhinos (the South African=20 amateur Rugby League side) and their amateur=20 counterparts from Britain was the ideal laboratory to=20 test the following hypothesis: might the new sport of=20 rugby league in this country give rise to a new=20 tolerance among those who played and supported it?

Well, not really, is the short answer. Perhaps,=20 however, you'd like to read the long version.

Not having interviewed the players, I can't vouch for=20 them but the spectators responded to the Rhinos' 40-14=20 drubbing at the Wanderers rugby ground last Friday=20 night with characteristic South African wit.

As the British side ran in one of their six tries=20 someone complained bitterly about "hierdie blerrie=20 Pommies". Another commented, "moer hulle boere".=20 Another still -- obviously the joker in our midst --=20 stood up, faced the crowd and linked hands with his=20 three daughters, shouting "go team, go, rah-rah-rah."=20 It was that kind of night.

Having said that, there were a couple of highly=20 questionable decisions by English referee Steve Ganson=20 early on in the match which hardly endeared him to the=20 faithful, although it was always on the cards that the=20 Rhinos were going to get whipped and whipped they were.

The Rhinos' best period of play came five minutes=20 before the break during which they scored two tries,=20 turning round at 14-18 down. The tactical and technical=20 superiority of the British side (not to mention the=20 hard running of the Egremont pair of John Brockleband=20 and Paul Lancaster) put paid to them drawing level.=20

They conceded 22 points in the second half having three=20 players sent off in the process.

For the Rhinos, Pierre van Wyk of the Western Reds=20 caught the eye, as did Jaco Booysens of St Helens=20 Devils and his club colleague, try scorer Jaco Webb.

If life on the stands is somewhat predictable, then=20 another angle on the 13-man game is provided by former=20 Springbok prop and Transvaal captain Ockie Oosthuizen.=20 He is now Mr Rugby League in this country in that he is=20 chairman of the newly formed professional South African=20 Rugby Football League SARFL), as well as president of=20 the South African Amateur Rugby League Association=20 (SAARLA) --although he is about to step down as=20 president of the latter.

He is also a prime mover in Wescol Brokers, the=20 insurance company which sponsors the local game.

Oosthuizen, a likeable if ambitious huckster who=20 doesn't come naturally to the concept of the soundbite,=20 has plans to enter a national professional side in an=20 international league from October next year. (The South=20 African side would in other words play the role that=20 Tonga are currently playing in this season's Super 10=20 and presumably play sides such as the Auckland=20

He is not a man alone with his vision, however, and is=20 receiving energetic administrative and coaching help=20 from both Australia and New Zealand, the countries=20 where most of the team's professional matches would be=20

Despite the imminent professionalisation of a national=20 league side, Oosthuizen insists there will continue to=20 be a place for amateurism. "We will always be able to=20 offer any player in South Africa, be it a rugby union=20 player or a rugby league player, the opportunity to=20 also play amateur," he said. "This will not jeapardise=20 their amateur status, so there will always be an=20 automatic free gangway betwen the amateur league and=20 the amateur rugby union."

If this plan comes to pass, he envisions a situation in=20 which SAARLA concentrates on the grassroots development=20 and amateur side of the game, while SARFL, rather than=20 professionalising the game between clubs nationally,=20 earns hard currency through games against Antipodean=20 sides away from home.

Eventually Oosthuizen hopes to be able to create a=20 local super league, but this is contingent upon the=20 success of the professional side internationally.

Although this sounds achievable in practice, I'm sure=20 Oosthuizen would concede that there are a number of ifs=20 and buts, not least of which is the variety of=20 international sport available in this country at the=20

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