In 1990 when I was in standard 8 at Wynberg Boys High School I heard, to my astonishment, that the First rugby team would be making a trip to the UK for an unprecedented rugby tour of Scotland, England and Wales.
It was almost too good to be true. With South African rugby blood running thick in my veins, I had 16 years of dreaming of just such a tour (well that’s if I started dreaming about it from day one on this planet which is very likely if born in our rugby loving country, so I am not writing that off!) and the fact that this was now going to be taking place was almost too exciting for me to actually believe. You must remember that in 1990 there was not a single schools team from South Africa that had been on a school rugby tour to the UK and the approval of this tour was something incredibly exotic and original. Bishops and Woodridge were also breaking new ground in taking their 1st team over at the end of 1992.
At that stage though, the 1st team looked a long way away for me personally as, although I knew I had the talent and abilities to make the team, there were quite a few guys ahead of me that were in greater favour. I had 18 months to turn this situation around. It would be against the odds though and I knew I would have to set the goal and working really hard towards making that tour. I still had my std 9 year in 1991 to gain some favour and then with some momentum gained in that first year of open rugby I was hopeful to make the first team in my last year which would secure me a spot on the tour team.
So as a 16 year old in 1991 I began training as hard and as committed as I could imagine, about 2 months before the trials for the coming season. As a std 9 pupil with a lot of older guys ahead of me and in a school where 1st team Rugby is the be all and end all for so many of the boys, I had a huge mountain to climb, so that is what I decided to do, climb that mountain. You see in Hout Bay where my parents lived (I was in the boarding school) there were some huge sand dunes on the slopes of one of the surrounding mountains. Every weekend I would take to these dunes and go through a self imposed training regime that would make me sick with effort. I did this alone and used what felt like an almost unattainable goal as a form of inspiration and a catalyst for the production of some serious positive energy, rather then sit back and submit the the reality of my position at the time and the many older players ahead of me.
Trials day came and I blew the whole thing apart. Without doubt I was the first name on the team sheet with a fitness and intensity level streaks ahead of players previously perceived and shoe in’s for the 1991 first team. In that year and only in std 9 I played every single game in the 1st team (23 games as this included Cape Schools Week) and by the time 1992 and the tour to the UK came along I was the most capped player in the team going to the UK
It was some inspirational stuff to me personally and not a huge thing outside of my own personal world except for one young guy who played a year behind me and was also looking for a place in the tourside. He had noticed my situation somehow and at the beggining of 1992, the year of the tour when I was a automatic choice for the team, little Jake Boer came to me in the summer before rugby season and asked “Scotty, how am I going to make this team man. I got to go on the tour!”
Jake was the most tenacious player who would not back down for anyone, but he was really small in his std9 year still and to make the team he needed to add something special. I advised to hit the trials stronger and fitter than the others with his pre-season effort and he worked just like I had and made the team with ease.
Jake grew in his last year of school and became one of the best players the English Premiership league of rugby has every seen. Player of the year twice at London Irish and the Captain for a few seasons for the Cherry Reds of Gloucester Rugby club – as tough as they come.
We toured the UK together (sadly without our great fly-half Jacques Kallis who had to stay and play nuffield cricket) as proud players of the Wynberg Boys High School and smashed all but one school (Cheltenham College) before us. The newspapers called us the Junior Boks and I met Gavin and Scott Hastings as well as Craig Chalmers who were all playing for Scotland at the time and were amazed at the South African schools talents and strength. It was a dream come true and came from a place that at one stage seemed very far off … until the belief was instilled and the journey of overcoming the challenge was taken on with real belief and passion.