Lofty Nel dies at 80

Tue, 19 Jul 2016 16:28
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Lofty Nel, a great Springbok loose forward, has died a few days short  of his 81st birthday.

South Africans enjoy ironic nicknames - Tiny Neethling and even bigger Tiny Naudé and Boy Louw with Speedy Wilson at fullback. But Lofty was not ironic. He was 1,93 metres tall - much talker 50 years ago than it is amongst modern giants. It is the same height that Schalk Burger is now.

Nel was a warrior on the field and a gregarious gentleman off the field, a man who gave rather than received and was still playing the game when he was 40 - because he loved it and more than that loved the camaraderie that went with it.

After he retired from his job with SA Breweries, he went to live in Fairy Glen, Pretoria, close to his son and a daughter and their children, taking a great interest in the games the grandchildren played. And he still followed rugby with interest.

His only son, Pieter, was a fine threequarter, playing for South African Schools in 1983 and touring Wales with the team before going on to the University of Pretoria and good career with Northern Transvaal, as the Blue Bulls then were.

Father Lofty was born in Pretoria and went to school at Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck in Randfontein. He was a rep for Breweries, married to jukskei Springbok Hester Nel, née Müller, and the nephew of Hennie Nel who captained Natal and Northern Transvaal

Lofty was playing for West Rand when first chosen for Transvaal in 1957. He played 22 matches for the province until 1960, when he became a Springbok. Later he played for Western Transvaal and, when living in Witbank, for South Eastern Transvaal, ending his provincial career in 1970, the year he ended his Springbok career.

His Springbok career has a unique achievement. He is the only Springbok - we are talking of pre-professional days - to gave played against three successive All Black teams - 1960, 1965 and 1970. He also played against the Wallabies in 1963 and 1965 - 11 tests all told, eight against the All Blacks and three against the Wallabies. His immediate opponent for the All Blacks in 1960 was the mighty fisherman, Peter Jones, and in 1965 and again in 1970 it was Brian Lochore. Nel was warrior enough to stand up to opposition of that calibre.

Even after he had 'retired' he would still turn out for his club from time to time when needed, till he was 40. He was an enormously popular man.

Johannes Arnoldus Nel, always called Lofty, was born in Pretoria on 11 August 1935. He died in Pretoria on 18 July 2016. It was peaceful death for the peaceful man. He went to take a shower where he was found sitting peacefully but dead, presumably of a heart attack. He is survived by his wife Hester, his son Pieter, his daughters Dina and Hester and his grandchildren.