When Warren Whiteley led the Springboks for the first time in 2017, he followed in the footsteps of a number of outstanding players who also capotaind South Africa from the No 8 position.
As the main link between the forwards and the backline, the number eight occupies a natural position to captain a rugby team. Incumbent Emirates Lions leader Warren Whitely is the latest of a number of outstanding captains who led the Golden Lions, Lions and its predecessors Transvaal from the back of the scrum.
Four of them were Springbok test captains, while the GLRU’s CEO Rudolf Straeuli led the Boks in midweek matches.
And now there is Warren as well ...
Incidentally (or maybe not so), the attributes required of a good captain are largely the same as those for a good number eight.
The eighth man is part of the spine of the rugby team, starting at the hooker and running through the No 8 to the halfbacks and stopping at the full-back. = He is therefore a key decision-maker. As such it is critical that he is outstanding in reading the game and has well-developed anticipation.
A No 8 should also be mentally alert, have good communication skills and be able to direct and control the game.
In linking the forwards and backs he has a decisive role in the redistribution of the ball. His decision-making of when to run and when to distribute is of paramount importance.
To fulfil his role as a player the No 8 needs to be extremely fit and strong, be a good defender and above all have a sound knowledge of the rules.
No wonder then that some of the erstwhile Transvaal and later Golden Lions’ greatest captains played their rugby with a number eight on their back – even in the days when the numbering started with the fullback as number one.
Hennie Muller is probably the most famous of them all, but there were also Boy Morkel, Jannie Breedt, Rudolf Straeuli, and André Vos, all of whom captained the Springboks, as well as Chick Henderson and Anton Oberholzer.
* Hennie Muller, whose legendary speed earned him the nickname “Windhond” (Greyhound), played for East Rand Proprietary Mines (ERPM) and captained South Africa in nine of the thirteen tests he played.
He played for Transvaal from 1943 to 1952 and led the province in 17 matches, before he “defected” to Western Province.
Muller played for South Africa against the 1949 All Blacks and then captained the national team on the 1951-52 tour against Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England and France. Muller was with WP when he skippered the Springboks against the 1953 Wallabies.
* Chick Henderson, who played for Wanderers and became a famous rugby commentator, captained Transvaal in 1959 and 1960 in ten matches. He represented Scotland in nine tests, albeit at lock and flanker, from 1952 to 1954.
* Anton Oberholzer played for Diggers and was Transvaal captain 19 times from 1972 to 1975.
* Jannie Breedt (Wanderers) holds the Transvaal record of leading the red-and-whites 102 times from 1986 to 1992. Breedt represented South Africa in eight tests and captained the Springboks in two tests against a World XV in 1989.
* Rudolf Straeuli (Wanderers), CEO of the Golden Lions Rugby Union, led the province in 14 matches from 1993 to 1996. He played in ten tests, scoring four tries. He led the Springboks against Cardiff, Wales A and Irish Provinces on their 1994 tour of the United Kingdom.
* André Vos, being a member of West Rand Harlequins for whom he never played, was captain of the Golden Lions in 29 matches from 1998 to 2002. He was capped 33 times for South Africa and the country’s captain in 16 tests.
An impressive number of No 8s from other provinces also captained South Africa. They were –
* Billy Millar (WP, 1910-13, captain in five tests)
* Des van Jaarsveld (Rhodesia, 1960, captain in one test)
* Tommy Bedford (Natal, 1969, captain in three tests)
* Morné du Plessis (WP, 1975-1980, captain in 15 tests)
* Wynand Claassen (Natal, 1981, captain in seven tests)
* Adriaan Richter (Northern Transvaal, 1995, captain in one test)
* Gary Teichman (Natal, 1996-99, captain in 36 tests)
* Bobby Skinstad (WP, 2001-2007, captain in 12 tests)
* Schalk Burger (2015)