Obituary: Charlie Cockrell

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 17:01
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Charlie Cockrell, a great rugby man and a fine gentleman, died of a heart attack on the evening of 4 October 2016.

Three hookers named Cockrell played for Western Province from 1963 to 1982. Charlie played from 1963 to 1971 and was a Springbok. Robert played from 1972 to 1982 and was a Springbok. William played in 1981.

The three brothers, sons of Fred and Eileen Cockrell in a family of 10 children, were from the near northern suburbs of Cape Town. They went to school there and played their club rugby there. Charlie went to Parow High, and played his club rugby for Northerns and then for Paarl. In all Charlie played 67 times for Western Province, a huge number in those days of far fewer matches than is now the case. His younger brother Robert, who died in 2000 at the age of 50, played 102 times for Western Province.

Charlie, a bustling, energetic hooker, became Springbok in 1969 at the age of 30. That was on the demo tour of the UK and Ireland. He played in 10 matches on the tour including the Tests against Scotland, Wales and Ireland. He went as a replacement for Gys Pitzer who was injured early in the tour and then when Don Walton was injured Charlie became the No.1 hooker. JBG Thomas, the famous Welsh rugby writer, said that Charlie "proved himself a test hooker by the end of the tour. Cheerful fellow who worked hard to succeed".

Charlie was thrust into action and played three matches in 10 days, including the Test against Scotland at Murrayfield. Experienced hooker that he was, Charlie had no experience at all of throwing into line-outs which had been a wing's job till then. The result Scotland stole five successive line-outs from South Africa.

Walton was back for the England Tests but then was again injured and replaced by Robbie Barnard.

Charlie played in the last match of the tour, the Springboks' best performance when they beat the Barbarians 21-12.

After his playing days Charlie turned his hand to coaching - first Paarl and then as the assistant coach to Dawie Snyman of the successful Western Province sides of the 1980s. Snyman greatly admired his understanding of forward play and the way he could get on with his job with no fuss.

Charles Herbert Cockrell was born in Cape Town on 10 January 1939. He was a telephone technician who became a transmission manager at Telkom. He married Estelle Gouws and they had two children - Ian and Colleen. He died suddenly at home when he and Estelle were preparing to go out for the evening.

Charlie Cockrell is survived by Estelle, their children, two grandsons and two granddaughters.

He was a good man.