Copyright © The Author, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
When South Africa started playing International test rugby each test centre appointed their own captain who then had the responsibility of selecting the players, arranging practices and kitting out the team. Normal procedure was for the side to play either in white jerseys or to use one of the local clubs colours. The rationale behind the method of selection was that the players involved were primarily from the test centre and knew each other well, this was considered essential for teamwork. Another very important consideration was that they were in tune with the local playing conditions which in those early days differed substantially. On the coast the fields were well grassed but at Kimberley and Johannesburg the playing arena was hard red earth covered by a fine red dust without a blade of grass to be seen. This required special skills in tackling without being injured and the ability to cope with the dust storms which arose when their was a maul. The fact that these matches were played at altitude and that the harsh winter sun produced considerable glare also contributed to the thinking at each test centre. A negative to this system, in terms of today’s thinking, was that their was always a rapid rotation of the captaincy. However in those early days there was intense provincial rivalry between each test centre and it was felt that this was the best method of overcoming the problem. One could ask what has changed in the last 100 years?.
The question now to be asked is how the decision was made to play in green and why we retained it for our national colours. The man responsible for this development was Barry Heatlie, who was known to all, by the nicknames of either ‘Fairy’ or ‘Ox’. He had a lasting effect on all South African sport when he made his choice of colour but he has not received the deserved place of honour because of an embarrassing incident which occurred whilst he was still in his prime as a rugby player.
Who was Barry Heatlie. He was born on a farm in the district of Worcester in the Western Cape in 1872 being part of a large family of thirteen children, eleven boys and two girls. The brothers were all talented sportsman with seven of them making their mark in different fields. Two, Charles and Sydney were chosen to play rugby for South Africa alongside Barry. Charles in 1891 and Sydney twelve years later in 1903, both unfortunately being forced to withdraw prior to their matches due to injury and were not selected again. Barry was far more fortunate, in that his test career stretched from 1891 through to 1903.
He spent his early days at the local farm school and only moved in 1889 to Diocesan College, more popularly known as ‘Bishops’ in Rondebosch, Cape Town as a sixteen year old not ever having played rugby. Within a year he had not only made the schools first side but had made his debut as a schoolboy for the Western Province provincial side against Griqualand West in a match not at Newlands, but played on Rondebosch common. A year later, at the age of nineteen years and four months he was selected for South Africa in the second test against the British tourists. This is still the record for the youngest forward to be selected to represent this country. Even in those early days Barry was a big man standing at 1.9 metres, broad shouldered and weighing 94 Kg. Throughout his long career of sixteen seasons at the top level his weight only varied by one kilogram. That he was much bigger then his contemporaries is borne out in that in our first touring side in 1906/7 fifteen years after Barry Heatlie’s test debut there was no player over 90 kgms and only one player of the same height, the rest being smaller.
When the Tests were played at Newlands Barry was selected as captain in both 1896 and 1903. In the first series against John Hammond’s British side he decided that the jersey his side would wear would be his club colours, Old Diocesans, which were green. Up to this stage South Africa had played six test matches without success but now in the seventh match South Africa won by five points to nil. When sport was resumed after the Anglo-Boer war Mark Morrison captained the third British international side to this country. The first two tests were played at Johannesburg and Kimberley, the South African team wore white jerseys and both matches were drawn. Everything rested on the third and final test at Newlands. Barry Heatlie was appointed captain and, for the first time, introduced a selection panel consisting of himself and two former Springboks, Biddy Anderson - who also refereed the match, and Percy Twentyman Jones to choose the team. His club, Old Diocesans, was now defunct, but he still had the collarless green jerseys and he gave them to his team to wear again. The result of this test was a win for South Africa by eight points to nil and enabled this country to win its first ever rugby series. The players were elated and felt that the wearing of the green was a lucky omen and resolved that in future they would only wear this colour. Except for later home test matches against Ireland and Australia, when both of whose colours clashed with ours, before the latter country introducing their present playing kit, white jerseys have been worn, South Africa have always taken the field in their green jerseys. Paul Roos’s side in 1906/7 added collars to the jersey, which were white, the gold only, as well as the Springbok badge which had first been introduced by our national athletics team. The gold collar was a later addition. It was on this tour that our rugby players first became known as the Springboks. Their playing kit was completed by playing in black shorts and blue socks. In winning the series in 1903 South Africa started an unbeaten run in International rugby series which would last fifty three years before losing to the All Blacks in New Zealand in 1956.
For those who believe that it is only in recent years that controversy has raged around our achievements on the sportsfield they are mistaken, for in 1896 when Barry Heatlie led South Africa to its first test victory he chose as half back, Alf Larard from Transvaal who scored the winning try. According to one school of thought Alf had been a Rugby League player in England before emigrating to this country and South Africa was in breach of the very strict amateur laws that were governing the union game in those days. There are others who claim that Larard only went over to League, playing for Huddersfield, when he returned to England after the Boer war. Be that as it may, his achievement in scoring the winning points raised him to hero status in the eyes of the local population and he was given a gold medal to commemorate his scoring feat which could also be construed as a breach of the amateur rules.
But back to Heatlie, Barry was, according to a contemporary player, ‘all steel’ and was considered by many good judges as the greatest forward South Africa produced during the first half of this century. ‘Oubaas’ Markotter, the legendary Stellenbosch coach and long time South African rugby selector, who for many years had a powerful influence on the game of rugby in this country, played both with and against Barry Heatlie, and claimed that he was the greatest all round forward this country has produced. Markotter who only died in 1957 saw a lot of outstanding players in the previous sixty years, so his opinion is one to be respected. Bob Loubser who was the leading Springbok wing from 1903 to 1910 called Heatlie ‘the greatest captain I ever played under’.
Heatlie’s leadership ability was noticed early in his career and he captained nearly all the teams that he played for, starting at school level then on to club and the provincial scene where he led Western Province for ten seasons and was never on the losing side in a Currie Cup match. He was also unbeaten as a Springbok captain. In all, he was a big robust forward who was an intelligent and inspiring leader with a deep all round knowledge of the game. He grasped early on in his career the impact that correct coaching made and he freely sought out the leading coaches of the day for advice. He studied his opponents tactics carefully, noting their vulnerable points which he used to his sides advantage. He also clearly understood the need to win the game up front which gave him an edge over his contemporaries and there way of thinking. That he was a first class place kicker added another string to his bow and he was responsible for two vital conversions in the 1903 test series.
His involvement with rugby was not only on the playing field, for he was appointed secretary of the Western Province Rugby Football Union in 1895 and remained in office for three years. During this period he frequently chaired the meetings of the South African Rugby Football Union, acting as the provincial delegate as well. No mean feat for a man who was in his mid- twenties at the time.
During the 1905 rugby season, when he was the favourite to lead South African rugby on its first overseas tour to the British Isles the following year, disaster struck in what was to be a personal tragedy for him. He had got himself into financial difficulties and was forced to leave this country in a hurry being rowed out to a waiting ship in Table Bay. Legend has it that the men manning the oars were members of his then rugby club, Villagers, but it is also claimed that the task was carried out by the Malay supporters of the club. Heatlie’s father had also been drawn into the financial crisis and was declared insolvent. Barry managed to get away and sailed to the Argentine where he was to live for the next twenty years settling near Buenos Aires and gaining employment on a sugar estate rising eventually to the position of General Manager. He continued with his rugby career and did much to develop the game in that country, laying the foundations for the rise to international status of the national team, the Pumas. In 1910 he played for an Argentine selection against a touring British team. He also led his club side, Gymnasia y Esgrimo to the national championship of Argentine a year later and only stopped playing in 1915,after 26 seasons, at the age of forty three when he broke three ribs during a match. He then turned his attention to coaching and spent his remaining years in Argentine being heavily involved in this aspect of the game.
In 1925 Barry Heatlie was allowed to return to South Africa, one view being that he had repaid all or nearly all of the money he had misappropriated. Another view is that 1925 was also the year of the death of Biddy Anderson, a close friend from school days, a fellow rugby Springbok, who had also captained South Africa at cricket and had served with Heatlie as a national rugby selector. Biddy had gone from wealth to bankruptcy, possibly at Heatlie’s hands.
On his return to Cape Town he settled close to his beloved Newlands rugby ground and was able to have involvement once again with our rugby, albeit in a limited way, acting as a selector for Southern Universities in the mid 1930’s and contributing a number of chapters to the book ‘The History of South African Rugby Football’, the first definitive record of the game in this country which was published in 1932.
The misappropriation of money was undoubtedly a sad episode in the life of an obvious great player and leader of men which embarrassed many people and it led to him not being accorded the honour he deserves in the annals of South African rugby, as the man who gave this country the green jersey which is proudly worn today and which form part of the national colours of all our sporting teams. For all his strengths as a man, it is apparent that his business acumen was a weakness for after he had returned to South Africa he had two further business setbacks in Cape Town, the one a car agency operation and the other involved the operation of a flour mill. Barry, retired from business thereafter and lived quietly at Newlands until August 1951, passing away after sustaining serious injuries from being knocked over whilst getting into his car in the Main road on the way to an Old Boys dinner.
: SOURCES: 1. The History of South African Rugby. - Ivor Difford. 2. Legends of South African Rugby. - Edited by Keith Clayton. 3. Bishops Rugby. - Paul Dobson. 4. W.P.Centenary 1883 - 1983. - A. C. Parker. 5. Springbok Annals 1891 - 1964. - Danie Craven. 6. Rugby in South Africa 1861 - 1988. - Paul Dobson. 7. Springbok Rugby: An Illustrated History. - Chris Greyvenstein 8. T he Springboks 1891 - 1970. - A. C. Parker. 9. 100 Years of Rugby. - R. K. Stent. 10. 30 Super Springboks. - Paul Dobson.