The South African Rugby Union expressed its sadness on Monday at the passing of former Springbok centre, and legendary Stellenbosch University coach, Ian Kirkpatrick. “Kirkie” died in his sleep on Sunday morning at home in Somerset West. He was 82.
As a player, he made 13 Test appearances for the Springboks between 1953 and 1961. His debut was at flyhalf against Australia at Newlands in 1953, but he most frequently appeared as centre, touring New Zealand (1956) and the UK and France (1960-61) and making 43 Springbok appearances in all.
He owed much of his eminence to his reputation as an outstanding coach and mentor to generation after generation of Springbok players, as well as for his contribution to non-racial rugby.
In 1970 he led his native Griqualand West to arguably the most unexpected victory in the Absa Currie Cup’s history when he coached his childhood province to an 11-9 victory over Northern Transvaal.
He took over the coaching of the Springboks for their 1974 tour of France – an expedition which helped overcome the shock of their series defeat to the British & Irish Lions in the same year – and in 1978, joined the recently formed SA Rugby Board as their director of coaching.
Together with coaches such as Abe Williams, Piet Kellerman and Dougie Dyers, Kirkie established coaching projects and non-racial teams and competitions to give life to the slogan of Danie Craven, the SARB president: “We will change South Africa on the rugby field.”
Subsequently Kirkie’s name was to become synonymous with Maties rugby (Stellenbosch University) as generation-after-generation of players received his inspirational guidance. He was still coaching the Under-19 team at the time of his death.
Jurie Roux, SARU CEO, said: “South African rugby has lost one of its greatest influences. He was an incredible coach and friend to some of South Africa’s greatest players but, what set him apart, was the fact that he gave every player the same attention.
“He was an incredibly humble man whose passion for the game and playing it in the right way shone through in everything he did. Stellenbosch and South African rugby has lost one of its greats.”
Kirkie was born in Bloemfontein in 1930 and educated at Kimberley Boys’ High School. He made his provincial debut for Griqualand West and was selected for the Springboks shortly after his 23rd birthday to play at flyhalf in the second Test of the four-match series against Australia.
He played at centre in the only Test won by South Africa in the 1956 series in New Zealand – an 8-3 victory at Athletic Park – and then made the bulk of his Test appearances in 1960 and 1961, playing ten Tests in as many months. He was only on a losing Springbok side twice in his 13 Tests.
“This is a sad for South African rugby,” said Mr Oregan Hoskins, president of the SARU. “We have lost one of the true gentlemen of the game – as well as one of the game’s great thinkers. He was universally admired and respected and our condolences go to his family and many, many friends.”
Kirkie is survived by his wife Norma, four children and five grandchildren.
A public memorial service is to be held at Coetzenburg at 15h00 on Friday.