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Image: The cover of Hendrik Snyders’s new book on the history of sevens rugby in South Africa. (Source: Naledi)

Ever thought history was ‘dead’? Well, think again! A new book on the history of sevens rugby in South Africa will convince any history skeptic that the subject is far from boring. Dr Hendrik Snyders, head of the National Museum’s History Department and a specialist sport historian, wrote the long-awaited book that contains all the elements of a fast-paced and exciting sevens rugby match. The book, which is titled Blitz-Boks: rugby sevens in South Africa – a history, 1904-2019, covers all aspects of the history of the seven-a-side game since the very first tournament was held in 1904. This well-written and thoroughly researched book will please anyone who is interested in rugby. If sevens rugby had been treated as the stepchild of rugby history writing in the past, this book certainly rectifies it.

Image: Dr Hendrik Snyders (Source: Author)

For fans of Free State rugby this book will be even more special because it takes the reader back to the glory days of Free State sevens rugby of the seventies and eighties. In 1973 the then University of the Orange Free State’s Shimla team became South Africa’s first official national sevens club champions. The Shimlas dominated national sevens rugby until 1978. Who still remembers local rugby heroes Gerrie Sonnekus, Gerrie Germishuys, De Wet Ras, Martiens le Roux and Frikkie Naudé? The Free Staters played ‘scientific sevens rugby’ and, importantly, they have honed their skills on local soil. According to Hendrik the Shimlas became known for their ‘speed (forwards and backs), deft handling, close support play, a straight defense line and the avoidance of contact rugby’. The provincial Orange Free State sevens team performed just as well; in fact, they were unconquered during the eighties. Do the Elastoplast Sevens Tournaments ring a bell?

Hendrik’s book will also interest rugby historians and serious enthusiasts who want more detail and depth. Among others, the book tells the story of how sevens rugby developed from a ‘butcher’s fundraiser to a global game’ and how it happened that traditional fifteen-a-side rugby’s shortened version came to be recognised as an official rugby code. As it is the case with all South African sport, politics also made its mark on sevens rugby. The book eloquently describes how the game’s administrators and players responded to the multiple challenges posed by the country’s pre-1994 racial policies and the trying period of South Africa’s international sport isolation.

Seasoned rugby fans will recall the painful international sport boycotts and the ‘blacklisting’ of sports stars who visited apartheid South Africa. Ironically, the political circumstances of the time ‘benefited’ sevens rugby. Hendrik explains this irony and he also tells the remarkable story of how South African rugby took the lead by implementing its own (not always popular) initiatives aimed at transforming the game (not always successful) to make it racially more inclusive. The role played by a range of key role players such as Dr Danie Craven, Prof. Fritz Eloff and the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), is discussed and put in perspective. Misconceptions surrounding the sevens game’s often misunderstood history are also being cleared.

Finally, the book contains enough information on the post-1994 era of professional sevens rugby to interest younger rugby fans. Female readers will be interested in the chapter on women’s sevens rugby. There is certainly something for everyone in Hendrik’s book; therefore, it deserves a special place on the bookshelf. The work contains extensive footnote references, which makes it a handy reference guide for those who want to read more. The book is published by Naledi and it is available from most good booksellers. For more information, contact Hendrik at history@nasmus.co.za.

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