Andrew Aitken had a short but glorious career as a Springbok, never being on the losing side in his seven test appearances; and he would surely have won many more Bok caps but for the fact he faced constant opposition from certain quarters who thought him too small for international rugby. At a fraction over 6 foot, Aitken was on the small side by the standards of modern-day back-row forwards, but he was a sublime player who successfully competed with bigger forwards than himself by using technique, athleticism, awareness of space and low body position. His handling was exemplary, enabling him to keep the ball alive from almost any situation and his speed was such that some believed he should have played his rugby at centre.
Aitken made his provincial debut as a 20 year old for Natal in 1988 and quickly won respect from his team-mates for his mental toughness, extraordinary confidence and a zeal for training that meant he would outwork anyone in the most punishing routines. He was also a ferocious tackler. In a newspaper poll in 1989 he was voted top of the provincial rugby "hit parade", and opposition backs would often receive the ball and Aitken simultaneously when fielding a high ball against Natal. He played 46 matches for Natal, including winning the Currie Cup in 1990, before moving to Cape Town and joining Western Province. He captained Western Province from 1991 to 1993, and then decided to take up the offer of a place at Oxford University.
Aitken played in the famous Varsity Match against Cambridge in 1993, before joining the Watsonians Rugby Club in Edinburgh. As his name implies, Andrew Aitken came from Scottish stock and was qualified to represent Scotland or South Africa. He represented Scotland at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1994 and seemed poised to be called-up to the senior Scotland squad but decided to return to South Africa, because a Springbok jersey had always been his ambition.
Apart from spending the 1996 season in Australian rugby league with the Perth Western Reds, Aitken became a fixture in the Western Province side. The fabulously gifted loose-forward so impressed Lion's coaches Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer when he captained Western Province against the 1997 Lions, that they sought him out after the match and tried to persuade him again to play international rugby for Scotland. Despite McGeechan's suggestion to Aitken that he would have far more opportunities playing for Scotland (including a chance of perhaps wearing the famous British Lions jersey on the 2001 tour to Australia) than competing for a place in the Springbok team, Andrew rejected his flattering offer. Aitken, playing at eigthman, formed an outstanding loose trio with Western Province flankers Bobby Skinstad and Corné Krige and played in the Currie Cup Final in 1997, winning a closely fought match, 14-12, against Free State Cheetahs.
His splendid performances for Western Province and news of his invitation to join the Scotland rugby squad earned him a belated call-up to the Springbok squad for their end of season tour of Europe, ahead of AJ Venter who had been expected to be picked. Aitken captained the midweek team in their tour fixtures against the French Barbarians and France A, and finally made his Springbok debut when he replaced the injured Rassie Erasmus early in the second half of the 52-10 win over France at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The injury to Erasmus also gave Andrew Aitken his first start seven days later as a flanker (6) in the Boks 29-11 win against England at Twickenham, where he showed his class by consistently beating England's highly rated back-row forwards to the loose ball, and proving a vital link between the forwards and backs.
In June 1998 Aitken came off the bench to play against Ireland, and also came on as a substitute to play in the record-breaking 96-13 victory against Wales. On 25 July 1998 he started in the Springbok jersey for the second time in his career in the Tri Nations match against New Zealand in Wellington. He then came on as a replacement in the Tri Nations matches against New Zealand and Australia in South Africa in August 1998, and never played for the Springboks again.
He decided to retire from rugby in January 1999 for business reasons. During his career, Aitken performed wonders on a weekly basis for Western Province, but because of his size was initially ignored by the men who selected the Springboks, and then undermined in his short international career in a country which prides itself on its ability to field gargantuan forwards. When Aitken announced his retirement, former Springbok coach Nick Mallett said of him: "Andy was a great credit to South African rugby. He played well above his size and weight due to his explosive nature but above all he was an intelligent player, which resulted in his excellent test performances. It must also be remembered that he played out of position in his tests, at number six flank, rather than his usual position at number eight".
Aitken is regarded as one of the all-time great loose forwards by Western Province fans.
- Malcolm Finch