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Rugby Dinner 2012

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 | Academic

AMDG Address by Brendan Tiernan, Headmaster

2012 Rugby Dinner 4th August

Director of Sport, Coaches, Captain of Rugby, Staff members, Guests, Parents and Players.

I thank you very much for according me the great privilege of being Guest of Honour at the Rugby dinner tonight.   2012 turns out not to have been just any Rugby Year, but one of the most successful on record, and here I refer not only to 1st XV’s great success in winning their section of the National League, but to every Rugby Team in the school who collectively have such an excellent record, and have ensured that the College has won the National Trophy for the Zimbabwean Rugby School of the Year.   What is also very satisfying is the strength demonstrated in the junior age group teams.   Taken together the U16A, U15A and U14A have played 30 games, drawn 1, lost 3 and won 26 i.e. a collective win record of 87%.   And full credit to U14A for their undefeated season, accumulating a huge 439 points (for) and a mere 8 points (against) during the season.   (That is a game average of 49 points for and 1 against in each game.)   Truly remarkable.   So the 2012 Rugby season has been one which Headmasters can only dream about!   I thank and congratulate the Director of Sport, all the Rugby coaches and the players for providing their supporters with such great pleasure and success this season.

It would, of course, be very remiss of me not to offer a few of my own observations about our flagship team, the 1st XV.   No one who has not been directly involved with a 1st XV can come close to imagining the huge uplift in competition, stress, physical and psychological demands required in preparing for and playing the game of rugby at this level.   A school can play eleven games on a Saturday, lose ten, but if its 1st XV wins, it is regarded as a very successful day.

The delight in the huge success of this year’s 1st XV is at least partly due to our lack of anticipation of it.    It is not often that two quality 1st teams of the calibre of 2011’s and 2012’s are produced successively.   I just wonder if MrBrider and his group of coaches may have something to do with this (?!).   Of course every team has its outstanding individuals as this team does but for me the 1st XV is remarkable for the great quality of its team work and I would like to complement Junior Hlahla for leading fifteen players who appear to work together so well.   I will forever remember the 1st XV of 2012 as “my team of hearts”; they have played with unrelenting physical courage that can only come directly from the heart.   And this is why they have been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on not a few occasions; I have witnessed some utter fearlessness at times, such that thoughts of a few backsides I would like to kick all the way down the back drive, Mondays to Fridays, have been dispelled miraculously on Saturday afternoons and replaced by thoughts of admiration and forgiveness.   Well done, gentlemen of 1st XV!   You have given us all some wonderful inspiration.

I am often asked whether Rugby has changed much since the St George’s of my day as a pupil in the late fifties and early sixties.   My answer is usually, “Yes, significantly”.   The passion is still similar, but bear in mind in the St George’s of my day there was little choice; one played rugby in winter and cricket in summer.   That was it, apart from some Athletics in Term One, some Swimming in Term Three, and a little Tennis throughout the year.   Up until the year I arrived, Boxing, at which St George’s excelled, was also a popular sport.   However the previous year there had been a serious injury and so Boxing had been disbanded.  

However, the boxing ring was still up, and if any boarders were caught fighting, they were made to go a few rounds with boxing gloves on in the ring, under supervision.   The last vestige of the boxing ring still exists: it is that concrete square in the Form Four Quad near the Loyola Centre.   With reference to boxing I remember one evening at our Senior Dining Club at which the ex-Federal Prime Minister Sir Roy Welensky, who had been in his day a keen amateur Boxer, was our guest and the Rector was present also.   In those days the Rector was not only the spiritual Head of the school, he was also the Headmaster and the Head of a large community of Jesuit Teachers.   He was regarded by everyone as having divine infallibility and authority – such as Headmasters ought to be regarded today (…. but alas are not).   Sir Roy and the Rector had been having a discussion about the merits of Boxing as a sport and we heard the Rector say that Boxing was too dangerous, whereupon Sir Roy retorted very, very emphatically: “Rubbish, Rector!”   All of us seniors present were visibly shocked and an embarrassed silence descended: we had never heard a Rector being publicly contradicted before.   Those were indeed the days!  

The College of my day had a little over 400 pupils, the greater majority of whom – about 270 – were boarders.   Day scholars were regarded by us boarders as second class citizens: this tended to be reinforced by the school regulation that while sport was compulsory for boarders, it was voluntary for day scholars.

The structure of the school week was also very different.   We had lessons up to 3 o’clock every afternoon except for Wednesdays and Saturdays when lessons ended at 12.10.   So Wednesday and Saturday afternoons were the official sports afternoons when fixtures were played, Juniors usually on Wednesdays and Seniors on Saturdays.   All from Form 3 upwards were also compulsorily enrolled in the school Cadet Corps, which operated on Tuesday afternoons after school and for an hour on Friday mornings before school.   So the sports practice afternoons were on Mondays and Thursdays from 3.30 till 5.00.

In those days there were fewer schools and so there were more double-headers and more travelling for the 1st XV.   Every year the 1st XV played Milton in Bulawayo, Plumtree (alias Botswana High), Chaplin in Gweru, and Umtali (now Mutare) Boys.   St George’s then had severely limited transport, in the form of a single open truck.   So we would travel down to these schools on the overnight Friday passenger train, and would return on the overnight Saturday passenger train.   I still remember one 1964 journey to Plumtree with absolute horror:-

We arrived in Bulawayo station at 6.00am on a cold and crisp Saturday morning, after a night of somewhat interrupted sleep.   (Boys will be boys, you know, especially on a train.)  We waited at the station for two hours, until irritated and hungry we walked into Bulawayo for some refreshment and a telephone to contact Plumtree.   Their open truck had apparently broken down and estimated time of arrival was now ± noon.   So rather bored, we wandered around the streets of Bulawayo exhausting ourselves in the process.   Eventually the truck arrived to take us the hour’s journey to Plumtree on a dusty and corrugated track.   After a less than wholesome lunch we readied ourselves to play on Plumtree’s grey and grassless field.   By half time we were 8-0 down and already a beaten side with grey dust in our eyes.

I am sure the Plumtree Coach had observed our tired and listless spirit, for there was a very noticeable change of tactic after half-time.   As though to deliver the coup de grace, Plumtree cut up rough, punches were thrown in tight and loose scrums, boots were aimed and scraped.   The Ref, possibly an Old Prunitian, appeared to notice nothing, but we certainly did.   It got our blood flowing and generally awoke us from our lethargy, and we ultimately won the match 11-8.   Miraculously a relatively new Plumtree bus appeared that evening, to take us back to Bulawayo Station in comfort, so we were left wondering whether the situation in the morning had not been what is usually called ‘gamesmanship’ on Plumtree’s part.   The return journey on the train that night was a very uneventful one, as fifteen very exhausted but rather happy rugby players got a full night’s sleep.

Our Rugby Coach seemed to us a fairly eccentric Englishman; he had been in the British Army for most of his life until he retired at the age of 50 and came to teach English at St George’s.   Colonel Michael Lind brooked no nonsense, his language was fairly choice when it needed to be, and he was not above giving his pupils a good punch on the nose when the situation called for it (this had a decidedly calming effect on his pupils)or a smack with his riding crop, for he quite often rode to school on horseback from his small holding in Borrowdale.   But he was a man’s man, and we would have followed him to the ends of the earth if he asked us to.   I will remember him, both as a teacher and coach, with affection and admiration till the day I die.

For the boarders, support for rugby was compulsory no matter where it occurred in Harare.

Generally, as I have said, the juniors played their rugby on Wednesday afternoons, and the one College open truck was reserved on Saturdays for the use of seniors who were playing and being driven to the venue.   After lunch on Saturdays the boarders not playing having passed through a Prefect inspection procedure, had to walk to wherever the 1st team was playing, and, of course walk back, which was far harder.   Walking to and from Churchill was always regarded with the greatest distaste, for obvious reasons.

But I must cease to bore you with war stories: when I said that “Rugby” had changed significantly, the essentials have not changed: the passion is still there, perhaps even expressed more readily than before; the qualities required are still there, perhaps the skill levels needed are more demanding from every player, not merely from those graceful flamingoes, the three quarters; the physical courage necessary is still there, perhaps required in greater quantities than before. The necessity to keep one’s mind alert to the main chance, and one’s eyes wide open is still there.   In other words, and for my money at least, Rugby remains the greatest school game we have.   I commend the success rugby has had in 2012 and the efforts and qualities that have brought it about, and I thank everyone who has contributed to that success, of the season of 2012.