Toppy: Whiteley is the real deal

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 13:35
Large warren whitle with ball car

MORE THAN RUGBY: The world calls him Toppy. The Springbok captain calls him Mr Hortop.

There is a world of interest in that.

Toppy is Anthony/Tony Hortop, a schoolmaster at Glenwood High School in Durban for the last 45 years. He is still teaching there at the age of 75, still coaching rugby and still refereeing rugby. And universally he is known as Toppy. That is what his chums called him when he was a schoolboy and a talented flyhalf and left-arm spinner who became a man full of ideals and ideas, who lived his life his energetic way.

Part of his energetic life which included being  a husband and a parent and then a grandparent, teaching English, surfing, playing and coaching rugby. He coached the first XV at Glenwood for over 30 years.

The Springbok captain is Warren Whitely, the newest Springbok captain, who led the Springboks for the first time last Saturday. Whitely had been Toppy's captain at Glenwood and his captain when Toppy coached the Natal Schools team.

There always is a special bond between captain and coach. In an ideal rugby world, they share the same thoughts and ideals, united in getting the best from team and its individuals. For a team to develop successfully, it needs the coach and the captain to be as close as possible.

For Toppy, as for many great schoolmasters, coaching rugby - or any other sport or any other extramural activity - is a part of an educational process which looks to provide for the whole of an individual's development. Teachers involved in such activities - sport or cultural activities or any other out-of-classroom activity - gain immeasurably from such activities - and so do their charges.

Toppy tells of Warren's arrival from the Bluff in Standard Eight (Grade 10), as a boarder. His parents were in Johannesburg and he was staying with his grandparents and had been going to Dirkie Uys, school on the Bluff. He was then Under-15 and Glenwood wanted to play him centre. The 14-year-old boy wanted to be a loose forward and opted to play in the B team to do so.

The next year he was a loose forward in the first XV and the year after that the captain of the first XV and of KwaZulu Natal Schools.

Toppy says of Warren that he was a popular captain, who led by example. When he was the Glenwood captain, they beat mighty Grey College of Bloemfontein, the only time Glenwood have done so Toppy says that Warren played a bit part in that.

Asked about Toppy, Whitely said: “Mr Hortop is a Legend! He had a great impact on my career as a coach and as a person, especially with his principles and values."

When you have to pick somebody - in any of life's activities - start by picking a good man. The better the man, the better he will do. Toppy also had Gary Teichmann as a captain in a provincial side, a most honourable (good) man. Toppy says that Warren and Gary were in the same mould.

Both Gary and Warren were players who got where they did through hard work and determination. Warren was slow to be recognised because he was regarded as too small. But he had other qualities, and one of them is leadership.

You can see it in his body language and that of his players as he runs out onto the field and turns to face them with a smile and sparkling eyes and they run to their captain with lively steps.

That is what made it so different when he led his team out into a Test arena for the first time - different and yet a trait of the same man.

Imagine the tension of Warren Whiteley's week before the Test. Captain of the team for the first time, captain after a ghastly year in which the Springboks were vilified and seemingly abandoned by those who had passionately supported them and now without faith in them. Leading out the Springboks was the crowning point in 15 years of determination, disappointment and triumph. And he did not run skipping onto the field in Pretoria.

Warren walked out, his right hand holding the left hand a of a little boy with a patch on his eye. They held hands for the passion of the anthem and then the captain bent to the mascot and spoke to him in a most gentle way.

And then the match started and took possession of all of him.

That little boy, Nhlakanipho Zita was an eight-year-old from Cape Town. They walked out because Nhlakanipho could not run. He was terminally ill. His presence at Loftus Versfeld was organised by the Reach for a Dream Foundation. This was the little boy's dream - to be the mascot for his heroes in the Springbok team.

Toppy believed that this was typical of Warren.

And this week coach and captain will meet up again, for the Springboks are in Durban to play the second Tests against France.

@rugby365