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Dirty tricks and lost teeth

Submitted by on Saturday, 20 December 20082 Comments
Dirty tricks and lost teeth

Syd Nomis, scorer of two famous Bok Test tries, looks back on the days when rugby was rough and even the ref sometimes turned a blind eye.

The rugby incident people always associate you with, is Fergie McCormick’s (AB fullback) illegal tackle on you. Talk me through it.

Yes, we were on our 22 metre line and I intercepted a ball and what went through my mind in a flash was, ‘I’ve just got McCormick to beat and I’m through’. I chipped the ball over his head and made to run around him. Instead of chasing me, he just turned around a hundred and eighty degrees and smashed me in the mouth with his elbow. In fact in his biography he says he would have done anything to stop me – and he did! (Laughs). I was down and, for a few seconds, completely out. When I came around the referee, Dr Wynand Malan sat me up; coincidently he was a dentist and he straightened my teeth for me. Two actually came out in his hand, the rest were all bent and there was blood going down my throat (laughs).

Did you go off?

No – I stayed on. There was quite a bit of the game left and it wasn’t actually that sore. More numb.

In the next test did the Springboks target him?

He was one of the dirtiest rugby players I ever played against. Even some of his own team didn’t like him. If you tackled him or if he tackled you, he would somehow manage to kick you, elbow you or punch you, it was amazing. He was unofficially targeted. The coach said, ‘Look there is somebody we don’t like here,’ and we knew who he meant. They found him in the third test and he in fact never played in the fourth test.

What happened?

In the first three minutes I got the ball on the right wing and I put in a cross kick, which turned into a perfect ‘up and under’ and Jan Ellis, Piet Greyling and Hannes Marais all hit him at the same time. It took him quite a while to get up, but hell he was a strong bugger. He then ended up at the bottom of lots of loose scrums and he had a very difficult time. But to his credit, as I said, he was a tough boy.

How were your teeth for the rest of the series?

Well they transplanted the ones that came out, back into my mouth – interestingly they lasted another four years – but they gave me a gum guard made out of plastic and a type of rubber for the next test, which was in Port Elizabeth. So in a way I started the whole gum guard thing, because up until then no one used them (laughs). In that test Fergie punched me again – you can’t believe it. But I got him; I punched him a number of times, before the ref intervened. Nothing happened, I wasn’t penalised, but afterwards at the cocktail party the ref came across and asked me, ‘Did I give you enough time?’ then he smiled and walked off.

Were you friendly with any of those All Blacks?

Oh yes. I was actually a groomsman in top hat and tails (smiles) at Grahame Thorne’s (AB centre) wedding, when he came back to South Africa to get married. Also Bryan Williams (AB wing) and I were good buddies. He spent a day at my home and he played the guitar. All my nieces and nephews and family were there and we had one of those wonderful days you never really forget.  But most of those All Blacks were nice chaps.

You were on the ‘demo tour’ in 1969/70. What was that like?

It was frightening. My wife was pregnant with our first child. You never knew if there might be a guy in the stands with a gun or something, it was frightening. You think, ‘Jeez am I going to get home to see my firstborn..?’

What were your political views at the time?

Strangely it didn’t matter to them – the Kiwis. I would go to the opposition at the various matches in their changing rooms and say, ‘I don’t vote for the government, I vote against the government’. They would just say, ‘We don’t care – you are a South African.’

There is a rumour that one of the Springboks had a nervous breakdown on that tour. What do you know about that?

It was me (laughs)! At the Angel hotel – at an after match dinner, I was sitting next to Tommy Bedford and I started to feel weird. I fainted and they carted me off in an ambulance and kept me under observation for the night in the hospital. The nice part was they gave me some Valium. They said it was a bit of a nervous thing, obviously from what was going on and the fact I had a pregnant wife at home, etc. But it never affected me after that – on or off the field.

Rugby was pretty tough in your day – tell me about the club rugby you used to play.

I played for Wanderers. We would play against teams like Iscor, Diggers, Police and Vanderbijlpark Park. Every now and then I was picked on because I was Jewish. I can’t tell you how often I was tackled by someone calling me, a ‘Bleddy Jood.’ But I remember taking out a guy from Bobbies (Police), who had been particularly abusive; they carried him off, which was quite satisfying (laughs). But I suppose it was just how it was. If you played rugby then, that was how it was played, there was no other way.

There is the old story that a Springbok team needs a Jew for luck – to which Wilf Rosenberg (Springbok centre) responded cynically, that they needed a Jew so they would have someone to blame – what was that all about?

It was Doc Craven who said we need a Jew and a policeman in the side. That is what he thought brought luck – a Jew and a policeman. After my first eleven tests we hadn’t lost a game and people started saying maybe this Jewish luck is working (laughs). And of course when Joel Stransky kicked the drop that won the World cup, after the game Kitch Christie said something along the lines of, ‘…and then our Jew-boy kicked the drop’.

Apart from club games, did you experience any anti-Semitism on the field?

No. Nothing – club games only – never anything in an international or provincial game. That club rugby was almost harder than international rugby. But funnily enough, after the game we would have a beer together and we would be big mates.

You were offered a chance to play rugby league, what happened there?

The first offer I got was from Wigan, but it was a bit half hearted. The next one was from Oldham and was a genuine offer. They approached me and were going to give me £23,000, free air tickets and a trial period and all that. But I then saw in the papers that another player was going to get £32,000 so I asked them for more (laughs). It then fell apart and it never came off. If they had upped the money I think I would have gone as my wife is from that part of the world. Her parents would have been close by, but it never happened.

In 1970 when Brian Lochore’s All Blacks, ‘The unsmiling Giants,’ arrived here, they had won seventeen tests in a row and beat every provincial team convincingly. The Springboks were underdogs in the first test and you scored one of the great Springbok tries to win the game. Famously, Gerhard Viviers, the renowned Afrikaans radio commentator just screamed ‘Sydeeeeee, Sydeeeeeeeeee,’ while you ran towards their try line – tell me about that.

I even get ‘goosies’ now when I think about it. It was at Loftus Versfeld. At half time we were just winning from a try by either Dawie de Villiers or Piet Greyling – no one knows who scored it. In the second half, on our 22 metre line Brian Lochore passed the ball to someone, but I saw the pass coming and I intercepted and ran almost the length of the field to score and we eventually won 17 – 6. It was absolutely magic, especially when Dawie de Villiers (captain) came up – there was no kissing in those days (laughs) – and put his arm around me, patted me on the back and said, ‘Well done’.

By all accounts the 1970 series against the All Blacks was quite dirty.

The second test at Newlands was the dirtiest game of rugby I have ever seen or been involved in. Alex Wyllie (AB flank) said the same thing to me; he said he wouldn’t like his son to watch or play in a game like that. Dawie de Villiers had nine stitches in his ear; Piston van Wyk had twelve stitches; I had my teeth knocked out and in the doctors room afterwards, Alan Sutherland (AB no 8) was also being stitched up. That was the most hideous test match.

Apart from that well-known try, you scored an equally famous try against the French where you kept slipping in the mud and getting up…

Yes that was in Paris at the old stadium – it was freezing cold, I think that was the coldest day Paris ever had (laughs). We were attacking and Mannejies Roux was tackled, the ball came loose and I kicked it ahead. It was lying in the in-goal area and as I ran to dot it down, cramp set in and I fell.

So it wasn’t mud – it was cramp?

Yes, it was just plain old cramp. I got up and I fell. I got up and fell maybe five times, but I still beat the French to the ball – it was unbelievable! (Laughs). The irritating thing was that Charles Fortune (SA commentator) gave the try to Mannetjies – my wife was listening and didn’t realise it was my try; although he did apologise later. It’s important your tries are given to you (laughs)!

How do you feel about professionalism, which came in after your playing days?

Oh, I predicted it had to eventually come in. I think it’s a good thing and of course it would have been great to have earned what some of these players earn today.

And the new law changes?

I think they have spoilt it. No doubt in my mind. In the olden days the golden rule was, if you got a ball from the loose scrum, it would go out to the wing. If you played on the wing, you knew you would get the ball. Now it’s all phases and crash ball rugby.

You never started your career for the Springboks as a wing?

No – my first three tests were at centre – I took John Gainsford’s position. In fact it was such a lovely thing; when I was chosen in his place, he sent me a telegram saying, ‘Like I’m sad man – like I’m glad man – play well. John Gainsford’.

Hugh Bladen mentioned that he used to run races against you – how quick were you?

In those days it was 100 yards and I used to run it in 10.00 sec dead, (11.00 sec for 100 m). Hugh was very fast and we often trained together. He was very unlucky – before the Springbok tour of Australia he outplayed everyone in the trials, but for some reason they took Dawie Snyman. I don’t want to rake up old issues, but Doc Craven was instrumental in that.

Your son, Gary was quite a good rugby player – why did he stop?

Yes he was. He played Craven Week two years in a row as a flank. He then got a rugby bursary at Wits Tech and he played for Wanderers, but then he stuffed his knee up.

What are you doing now?

I was in the rag trade for a long time – twenty odd years. Then I got an offer in the security industry, which was too good to miss so I left the rag game – but I used to enjoy it.

If rugby didn’t exist, what sport could you have excelled at?

I promised my late father I would be a Springbok cricketer, but obviously I never made it. I used to open the batting and play wicketkeeper.


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