Bok Legends: A man called Bennie


With all the recent talk about flyhalves some of you may enjoy a read about the Springbok legend BENNIE OSLER, who played in an era when there was NO protection for a flyhalf. He is an inductee in the 2009 IRB Hall of Fame.

Bennie Osler by Dr. Danie Craven

I cannot do justice to Bennie Osler. Whatever I have to say must be amplified a thousand times to do true justice to this rugby genius.

He played in an era when the moment the hooker had touched the ball as it was thrown into the scrum, the entire opposing pack could break up. Bennie, being the marked man he was, attracted most of the attentions of these players – there was no offside law then.

To counter this, Bennie had worked out a defence mechanism. His answer was to kick the ball into the “boxes” – those gaps left by the fast-breaking opponents.

Bennie had the habit of telling the scrumhalf only at the very last second which way he was going – left or right. A difficult man to play with, but he knew what he was doing. He would say “Danie”, which meant right, or “Craven”, which meant he was going left.

As I’ve said, a difficult customer, but that is the way it is when you come across a genius like Bennie; you had to follow blindly, believing and trusting that he would do the right thing. This Bennie Osler seldom failed to do on the rugby field.

Some people were of the opinion that Bennie was a bit scared, but I recall the game against Scotland on the 1931/32 tour. Dribbling was very much a part of the game then, particularly in Scotland.

The Scottish crowd would chant “Feet, Scotland, feet.” And those boots would not distinguish between body or ball. I had my doubts, for sure, but that day Osler answered his critics. In the face of the oncoming forwards he fell on a loose ball, was flung aside, kicked, but the courage was there, plain for all to see.

I will never forget my first ever Test match, against Wales. We were in the dressing-room, sitting quietly. Outside it was raining cats and dogs, the crowd singing beautifully, stirringly, while getting wetter and wetter.

I was so nervous I was tempted to tell Oom Theo (Pienaar) that I couldn’t play. I looked around me and saw all the stalwarts we had; Phil Mostert, Gerry Brand, Boy Louw and Bennie Osler, sitting quietly as they prepared.

Just before we were due to go on the field, Bennie stood up and said: “Fellows, I don’t know what we can expect out there. I don’t know if we’ll be able to handle the wet ball – but we must assume that we will be able to. If we can’t I’ll tell you what to do. I want you to remember our people at home: They’re all behind us. Remember, no-one in the stands here is on our side.”

We went out with those words ringing in our ears.

After I had passed the ball to him after the very first scrum he said to me: “Daantjie, we can’t handle it. Anytime you get the ball kick it anywhere you like, because they won’t be able to handle it either.”

They were playing with mittens in those bitterly cold, wet conditions – the first time I had ever seen gloves worn on a rugby field. Bennie ordered: “Forwards, let them have the ball in the scrums and lineouts. Loose forwards, you capitalise on their mistakes.”

And those were our tactics on the day. Well, they scored first and it was a terrific battle, but eventually we won 8-3 and what a glorious end it was to my first test match.

Bennie – a man of few words during a match – would often turn to the referee and ask how much time was left. Often the referee would reply: “After the next infringement I’m going to blow no-sides.”

At Neath and Aberavon we were battling. Finally we drew level. Then the decisive moment: Bennie asked the referee his usual question. We won the ball, Bennie slipped around the blind-side, passed to Zimerman who ran clear and gave to Phil Mostert for the winning try.

A great, great player: We will not see his like again.

And here is a little anecdote:

Craven recalls the 1931-32 test against Scotland, which was played in a gale force wind with rain coming down in buckets on Murrayfield.

Bennie Osler (flyhalf) was the revered captain, Boy the leader of the pack. At one stage in the match Osler – known for his genius and autocratic style – decided to change tactics and instructed Craven to let him have the ball from a scrum.

“Keep it amongst the forwards!” was Boy’s contradicting command. “Let it come!” shouted Osler again, and for an instant Boy popped out of the scrum that was forming. “Kom, stront met jou, Bennie!” he shouted against the wind. (Roughly meaning ‘Bullshit, Bennie!’)

Test history:
Played 17
Won 12
Drew 1
Lost 4

Represented WP. 1,73 m 70 kg

Like reading about SA sporting legends? Here is more:

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  1. Even allowing for possible
    Craven bias (they played together)
    Osler was a great.
    Chris Greyvenstein paid tribute
    with a book called
    “The Bennie Osler Story”.

  2. Thanks Boer.

    Brilliant read. I have often wondered what those tours were like. You leave on a boat for 3 months. There is hardly a good telephone line to get a sense of home, yet you have to defen yourcountry against 80 thousand fans.

    Today Jean can first facebook his hairstylist and then pop a tweet to his girlfriend before kickoff whilst the night before reading blogs of how the fans are behind the team.

  3. Die toere was 3 maande of 3 weke? Hoe kan `n skip jou in 3 weke daarheen neem dan toer jy en terug in 3 weke?

    Ek dog hulle was altyd so vir 3 maande lank weg?

  4. Oom Dawie,
    i’m sitting next to your new hat
    my smallest laaitie,
    who has had a new set of three stitches
    on the other eyebrow,
    laid claim to the other monday morning
    on the way out to creche.
    he pointed to mine and said like me
    and i went Dawie se gat.
    have it.
    I fetched it from the Bear in Annemasse
    and will post iy in the morning.
    The oldest has a Bok-met-horings
    so you should be okay.

  5. Reply to Boertjie @ 10:33 pm:

    He he he – nou gaan ek baie slim klink.

    Die Springbok Toer na Briste Eilande in 1931 is 26 wedstryde gespeel.
    1ste die Sat 3 Oktober 1931 en die laaste Sat 16 Januarie 1932.

    Gespeel 26 – gewen – 23 – verloor 1 – gelyk 2 – PF 407 – PA 124

    enigste wedstryd verloor was teen Midlands COunties op Leicester.

  6. Reply to The Brand @ 11:23 pm:

    Met ander woorde – 26 wedstryde in 3 maande en 13 dae

    waar nou weer is Tim Noakes

    OK ek moet byvoeg – die geledere van die span is sodanig uitgedun dat hulle ‘n plaas vervanger moes vra. Teen Lancashire en Cheshire was daar slegs 10 Springbokke op die veld toe die eindfluitjie blaas. Die Springbokke het daardie wedsrtyd wel 20 – 9 gewen.

    Ander interessante feit is dievolgende:
    ‘n Lid van die span, wat sy Springbokkleure voor diè van Westelike Provinsie verwerf het, was Danie Craven

  7. Reply to The Brand @ 11:23 pm:

    1906 in BE: 28
    1931 in BE: 26
    1937 in NS: 26
    1951 in BE: 31
    1956 in Oz/NS: 29
    1960/61 in BE: 34*
    1965 in Oz/NS: 30
    1969 in BE: 24

    *Hulle het op Dok se aandrang
    weer per boot gereis – ná die baie
    dyspierbeserings van die ’56-toer.

  8. Maybe the “ruNNing the baLL @ aLL cost, because its so beautifuLL” should read this again.

    Then drink a slow dop on BeNNieOsler, Doc Craven, Boy Louw and the like

    who “played the game” in front of them

    and have a late night ‘lOOpslAAp’ dop to MichealClAAsens, who shouted and got replaced for:

    “voKKie ligte, speel die game”

  9. Fok ek het sommer hoendervleis gekry Boertjie

    Dis so jammer dat die professioele era ons van sulke karakters geroof het…

    En ja Brand


    Oh Timmie where art thou…