Say Johan Heunis and most people’s first recollections will be good manners, Springboks, Blue Bullls and Tukkies.
True, Johan was and still is the impeccable gentleman; he represented South Africa in 14 tests (in the apartheid years), played 110 matches for the then Northern Transvaal (109 in the starting line-up) and also wore the coveted Tuks whites with distinction.
A less known fact, however, is that Johan was born is George and finished his law studies (BProc) at the University of Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) before getting called up for his national service in Pretoria.
“I have fond memories of my student days. I started playing for UPE’s first team in my third year and had the good fortune of having my brother (Chris) as my captain and other well known Eastern Province players like Herman Potgieter, Gavin Cowley, Tino Kankowski, Schallk Burger, George Rautenbach and Andrew Johson as team mates. In those days UPE dominated the local club league, but we still had our work cut out in matches against especially Uitenhage and Park.”
Johan gained his EP colours in the same year (1979).
“My provincial debut was against a star studded Western Province. We did not win, but it was awesome to play against my childhood heroes. My highlight as student was the 1979 intervarsity against Rhodes. We were the overwhelming favourites, but only clinched victory in injury time. I scored the winning try and also converted it.”
“I have so many wonderful memories of my playing years in Pretoria, but will remember a match against WP in 1981 as if it took place yesterday. Seven weeks before that match I was struggling to get a break and only made in to the Northern Transvaal B bench.
“My first game for the Bulls was at wing and like any other player on the field that day I also had a place in the Springbok side to tour New Zealand in the back of my mind. I had a steady performance and scored a good try, but it still came as a surprise when my name was read out as member of the Bok squad.”
“As I was busy with strenuous basic training then, I welcomed every opportunity to get out of the camp. We all remember what happened when the Boks got to New Zealand, but I never had any reason to complain. Being confined to a luxurious hotel room and listening to protestors shouting anti South African slogans, was still much better than being back in basic training.”
Johan says he likes to watch FNB Varsity Cup rugby when he has the time.
“It is very exciting and FNB and Steinhoff (the co-sponsors) have to get all the credit they deserve as they have given young players a wonderful opportunity to make their potential and talent known to a big audience.”
To end a quote from former Bok and Northern Transvaal skipper Naas Botha: “Johan was the ideal team mate in any crisis situation. He was rock solid on defense, very secure under the high-ball and fantastic with ball in hand.”