Tom van Vollenhoven Dies

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 20:56
Large rest in peace 800

Tom van Vollenhoven, whose Springbok career was short but glorious, died at his home in Springs in the early hours of Saturday, 21 October 2017. He was 82.

He played just two seasons for South Africa - in 1955 and 1956. First chosen as a 20-year-old Springbok - He had played for Northern Transvaal from 1954 when he was 19 - as a centre against the 1955 B&I Lions, one of the best teams ever to tour South Africa. In that first Test, a famous one at Ellis Park, the opposing centres were that magnificent pair of Jeff Butterfield and Phil Davies. 

Van Vollenhoven played against the Lions five times and scored five tries. In the first Test that year he played centre but Danie Craven, who later chose him amongst the legends of South African rugby,  felt that Van Vollenhoven was not a "natural centre" and chose him for the second Test at Newlands on the left wing, giving his great speed a bit more room. He scored a hat-trick of tries in the Springboks 25-9 victory.

The next Saturday he was at centre for Northern Transvaal against the Lions and scored a try. He was back on the wing for the third and fourth tests, scoring in the fourth.

In 1956 the Springboks went to Australia and then on to New Zealand. On this tour of three and a half months, Van Vollenhoven played 19 matches, all on the wing, scoring 16 tries. He played in both Tests against the Wallabies and scored in the second Test but not with a try. With the Springboks leading 6-0, captain Basie Vivier slung the ball Van Vollenhoven's way and the wing dropped a goal.

There were no tours in 1957 but Van Vollenhoven left the police force, married Leonie and headed to Nchanga in the Copper Belt of what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. He hoped to earn more than he did as a policeman. While there, he played for Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia

Then late in 1957 he signed to leave South Africa and rugby union and go off to England to play rugby league for St Helen's, a club founded in 1873. The signing-on fee, £7 230, was a record at the time. The club still regards the 'flying Springbok' as its greater player ever. He played 408 times for the club till 1968, scoring 392 tries. He twice scored six tries in a club match and still holds the record for the most tries in a season - 62 in 1958-59.

Despite his short South African career, Van Vollenhoven has remained a household name in South African rugby. The day Van Vollenhoven died was a Saturday and that afternoon the Blue Bulls (Northern Transvaal's modern name) played the Sharks (formerly Natal) in Durban. The Blue Bulls' players ran on with black armbands, commentator Hugh Bladen paid tribute to Van Vollenhoven and a minute's silence was observed. A remarkable honour for a player who had played just 15 matches for the Blue Bulls, his last one 61 years before.

Karel Thomas van Vollenhoven was born on 29 April 1935 in Bethlehem in the Eastern Orange Free State. He was schooled in Bethlehem, at Volk Laerskool and Voortrekker before going off the Police College in Pretoria.

He died on 21 October 2017, survived by his wife Leonie of 60 years and their children Lynn and Keith and five grandchildren. A second son Alan was killed in a motor accident.

Photos of the young Tom van Vollenhoven show sombre, unsmiling face, which was not at all what he was like, for he was a friendly man with a ready smile, an infectious laugh and a naughty glint in his eyes.