South Africa

Kirkie dies suddenly

Mon, 19 Nov 2012 07:39
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His playing career was great

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Ian Kirkpatrick, great rugby man, died suddenly at his home in Helderberg Village on Sunday. He was 82. His influence on South African rugby over six decades cannot be overestimated.

On Friday he complained of a 'stomach upset' and cancelled a meeting with an overseas company about to make a documentary on the 1974 tour, when Kirkpatrick was a national selector.

His playing career was great. He left Kimberley Boys' high and at the age of 19 and played for Griquas. The next year he went to the Springbok trials at Newlands when the great Springbok team was chosen for the 1951-52 tour. In 1953 he made his Springbok debut against the Wallabies at Newlands, playing flyhalf.

Kirkie played for South Africa in 13 Tests. Of the 13 two were lost, and on each occasion it was at Newlands (against Australia and France) and he was at flyhalf. In 10 Tests he was at centre in partnership with John Gainsford.

Those Tests were successive, starting with the match against Scotland in 1960 and ending against France in 1961. There were four Tests against New Zealand and then Tests against Wales, Ireland, England, Scotland and France on tour. Those were days when centres played left and right. On the 1956 tour to New Zealand., he played in the second Test, the only one the Springboks won in New Zealand.

Kirkie was a wonderful handler of the ball and those around him thrived on what he could enable them to do.

Ian played his provincial rugby for Griquas (40 times, 1950-57) and Free State (28 times, 1958-60). He was employed by Shell in Bloemfontein, then ran his own garage in Kimberley and then became an outstanding coach.

Perhaps his greatest feat was coaching a Griquas team to victory over Northern Transvaal in the 1970 Currie Cup Final. He was also a Springbok selector and after the debacle of 1974 he coached the team in its tour to France which did so much to steady the ship. Johan Claasen was the appointed coach but fell ill and Kirkie took over.

Kirkie was a national selector from 1967 till he became an employee of the SA Rugby Board in 1982. He could then, by the amateur rules of the time, no longer be a national selector.

He coached in Port Elizabeth and then Transvaal. In 1978, after the SA Rugby Board had been formed to include the Federation and the Association, Nelie Smith was appointed director of coaching. He went off and in 1982 Doc Craven persuaded the Transvaal to release Kirkie from his post as their director of coaching to become the Board's director  of coaching. Kirkie then became Doc's closest confidant. Being the loyalest of men, Kirkie was loyal to Craven and stayed loyal to his memory.

Kirkie gathered Abe Williams and Piet Kellerman to form a coaching arm. When Williams went off, Dougie Dyers came in. Craven had the slogan: We will change South Africa on the rugby field. This is what his team set out to do, travelling the length and breadth of the country, holding clinics, encouraging mixed race rugby. They went to cities, towns and dorps.

Craven and Kirkie had the ability to attract people. Into the group came Springboks for not a cent's remuneration - Jan Boland Coetzee, Hennie Bekker, Hempies du Toit, Danie Gerber, Shaun Povey, Henning van Aswegen, John Villet, Errol Tobias, Colin Beck, Charles Williams, Timothy Konki, Morgan Cushe. Hennie Shields, Pompies Williams, Gysie Pienaar, Rob Louw, Hermanus Potgieter, Dr Augie Cohen to deal with medical matters and others. Kirkie had the ability to make being generous a great deal of fun.

Kirkie's people also started the Project Week for provincial schools teams, each team composed 50-50 by race. It went further - a team to Craven Week, a team to play SA Schools and into senior rugby with the Feeder System and even a team touring abroad. All of that came to an end with the politically acceptable unification of 1992. It also ended  Kirkie's involvement with SARFU. The impetus given by Kirkie and his team was summarily brought to an end. The only project which survived was the Fish Factory tournament. His treatment caused him much grief.

But off he went to Stellenbosch and coached Maties. He was still the Under-19 coach at the time of his death.

It is hard to find a greater contribution to South African rugby than Kirkie's. He had a passion for it based on  the firmest of principles which led Craven to call him the Mule. His fear was that South African rugby was in 'terrible trouble'. Like Craven anything opposed to the best interests of rugby was anathema.

And he also played as much golf as possible.

He was part of a sporting family. His wife Norma and his sister Rhoda played hockey for South Africa. Rhoda was married to Richard Lockyear, the Springbok scrumhalf.

Alexander Ian Kirkpatrick was born in Bloemfontein on 25 July 1930. His father was on the railways and so the family moved. He went to Merchiston Junior in Pietermaritzburg, Grey High in Port Elizabeth and Kimberley Boys' High. He died on Sunday 18 November 2012, survived by Norma, his wife of 52 years, and children Richard, Bridget and Peter, and five grandchildren.

It is not farfetched to say that the three men who, over a century, did most to build South African rugby to success were Oubaas Markötter, Doc Craven, Markötter's disciple, and Ian Kirkpatrick, Doc's disciple.

By Paul Dobson

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