Fifty years is a lifetime in rugby and to be involved at one union for all but eight months of the period is almost unheard of. It is against this background that the president of the Golden Lions Rugby Union, former Springbok and Transvaal great, Kevin de Klerk has written the last chapter of an incredible rugby story.
It all started when he was invited to a Transvaal Under 20 trial while he was still a scholar at Hill High in the south of Johannesburg at the tender age of 17. The year was 1968. Even then there were signs of a promising career that included 107 games for the then Transvaal in a career spanning 13 years, 13 Test matches in the isolation era and a Gazelle tour to Argentina amongst others.
There were a few defining moments during his illustrious career which included three Currie Cup finals, in 1971 (which Transvaal drew with Northern Transvaal), 1972 (which Transvaal won against Eastern Transvaal) and in 1974 (which they lost to Northerns).
He also represented the SA XV, the first multi-racial team to play against a touring side when they beat France in 1975 under the leadership of Morné du Plessis. Kevin Brian Henry de Klerk has indeed been there and done that.
De Klerk has got the T-shirts of clubs such as Union, where he made his senior debut at the tender age of only 17, at Pretoria Defence, where he partnered the great Frik du Preez at only 19, and at Diggers and Alberton, where he played from 1971 to 1984.
He was still a scholar at Hill High in the south of Johannesburg when he joined Union and he immediately made the Transvaal Under 20 team, even before he played two Craven Weeks for the Union.
When he did his national service in Pretoria he found himself amongst men such as Frik, and Springboks Piston van Wyk, Kleintjie Grobler and Thys Lourens, all legends in Blue Bulls country.
Back in Johannesburg after a tough baptism in the Carlton Cup De Klerk was recruited to play for the Afrikaans club in the south, the legendary Diggers, which attracted super stars like a magnet, remembers De Klerk.
There was a stage that no fewer than 14 members of Diggers were selected for a Transvaal team, and some of his team-mates included Springbok locks Klippies Kritzinger and Moaner van Heerden, Springbok front-rowers Sakkie Sauermann, Dave Frederickson and Johan “Pottie” Strauss.
He remembers Gert Muller as the best winger he ever saw, and Peter Cronjé as one of the best centres of his time, while the halfbacks, Gerald Bosch and Paul Bayvel became household names in South African rugby.
He was a member of a Diggers side, captain by the Springbok captain Piet Greyling, when they set two world records in a club game against Alberton at Ellis Park.
They set a SA record by beating Alberton 124-0 (22 tries) in 1972 and set another record when all 15 players scored tries. At one stage Muller crossed the try-line and waved one of the props through to score his try.
Much later, in 1980, when the Springboks played the South American Jaguars at the Wanderers, four of the five members of the Green and Gold tight five, himself, Sauermann, Frederickson and Strauss, were member of the famous Diggers club. It has probably never been done before and certainly will never be again.
De Klerk played his last few years out at Alberton where he retired in 1984 and coached for four seasons. Club rugby is close to his heart and helped shape his own wonderful career. It made him street smart, says De Klerk, and helped foster great friendships.
He was a member of the Four Musketeers, with Richard Prentis, Pottie Strauss and Klippies Kritzinger. It was Diggers and Jim Foley that helped shape him for a wonderful career as a player.
The last chapter, that as a very successful president of the Lions started in June 2009 when he was selected to replace Jannie Ferreira. He can indeed look back at a wonderful two and a half terms in which the Lions’ SuperRugby franchise played in three consecutive SuperRugby finals. They also won two Currie Cup titles in 2011 and 2015 and played in one more final while they also claimed the Vodacom Cup championship in 2013. Perhaps his biggest feat was helping create an environment which produced no fewer than 20 Springboks since that day he took over the reins.
Kevin has been part of the Transvaal and Lions family in more ways than one. He played a few games with his younger brother Vic and his son Ryan also wore the red and white in the Vodacom Cup. During his tenure he was instrumental in getting the Lions back in the Super Rugby fold and there is no doubt that he will hand the leadership down in a better position than he found it.
Rudolf Straeuli: Group CEO: “Lions Rugby would like to thank Kevin, Winnie and family for their unselfish time spent with the Lions Family. Your leadership and values you all shared with us over this historic period will always be remembered. May they be blessed as a family with the next venture. We all hope to have your continuous support at Emirates Airline Park”
Kevin de Klerk facts:
Born: 6th of June 1950
Transvaal debut: 10th July 1971
Gazelle debut: 22 September 1972
Springbok debut: 8 June 1974
Provincial career: 1971-1984 107 games for Lions, 1979 1 game for Natal
International career: 13 Tests
Milestones under his presidency:
Super Rugby finals: 3 (2016, 2017, 2018)
Currie Cup titles: 2 (2011, 2015)
Vodacom Cup titles: 1 (2013)
Under 19 titles: 3 (2011, 2016, 2017)
Under 21 titles: 1 (2016)