As was the case with many Johannesburg schools, grass meant the introduction of rugby. The Transvaal Rugby Football Union contributed greatly to the layout, construction and grassing of A Rugby Field. The College ’s first rugby season was not covered in glory. The first match was played against the Old Johannians on Gaudy Day 1932 and was lost 0-19. That year the first team played seven matches and won one. The explanation is given that the College team was young in years (12 players being U17 or younger) and was competing against mainly U19 sides. However, the spirit ran high and inter-house matches were played at 1st, 2nd and U15 level. That initial year the College’s playing colours were maroon jerseys and blue shorts, but the following year this changed to the colours still used today - white shorts and navy jerseys for the 1st XV, and white shorts and maroon jerseys for all other teams.
In 1996, A Rugby Field was renamed Burger Field in honour of Willem ‘Maxie’ Burger, a teacher at the College during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s and a well-loved rugby coach. Willem Burger joined the staff at St John’s College in January 1940 at a time when young male teachers were in short supply as many of the College staff had already joined up to fight in World War II. After a few years, Maxie was appointed master-in-charge of rugby, a position he was to hold for 23 years!
Former Headmaster of St John’s College, the late Walter MacFarlane was quoted to have said: “At Gaudy Day in 1996 the St John’s ‘A’ rugby field was named Burger Field in honour of Willem ‘Maxie’ Burger; a lasting tribute to a man who embraced the ethos of St John’s in all its forms but who never lost his desire to share with his pupils the wealth of Afrikaans literature and culture of which he was justly proud. In the last years of his life he reminded a group of his former pupils that they should never forget that they had been educated at ‘one of the finest schools in the world’.”
1996 saw the hosting of the first St John’s College Easter Rugby Festival, which has now become an annual event. Many of the top schools in the country, neighbouring countries and several from abroad, have attended the festival over the years. Provincial matches have been played during previous festivals as part of the Vodacom Cup and there has been live television coverage of the schoolboy games over the years as we celebrate the best in schoolboy rugby. Find more information on our annual Easter Rugby Festival here.
St John’s College ended 1998, its centenary year, with a flourish - not only was Old Johannian Owen Nkumane named the College’s rugby Springbok, but the Centenary Venture announced that it had met its R12-million fundraising target. St John‘s College’s centenary celebrations witnessed many achievements - not the least of which was the official opening of the third Easter Rugby Festival by the then President Nelson Mandela.
Owen Nkumane and Ulyate Clive Anthony are the only Old Johannian Springbok rugby players to date. Other promising players to have played at a senior level include: Mac Masina who played for the Lions, Cats and the Springbok Sevens, Dimitri Catrikilis who played for Western Province, Clinton de Klerk who played for the Lions and utility back Scott Spedding who played for the Sharks at Super 14 level and the South African Under 21 team. Currently he plays for Brive in France.
In memory of Old Johannian, Nicholas Rowe (1991), the first annual Seven-A-Side Inter-house rugby competition took place on 20 July 2002. Nick died tragically in the World Trade Centre disaster on 11 September 2001 and this annual Round Robin competition is sponsored by the Rowe family. Nick’s parents, Alec and Judy Rowe, along with members of the Rowe family and friends of Nick, often attended the Nick Rowe Inter-house rugby and the spirit and enthusiasm with which Nick played the game of rugby, lives on in this competition. Medals are awarded to winners of both the senior and junior levels.
Today, more than 80 years later, rugby is thriving at St John’s College – weekly fixtures are well supported and the school is able to field eighteen rugby sides ranging from Open down to the Under 14 age group. The recent introduction of Preparatory schools participating at the Easter Rugby Festival, the sport is set to grow and increase in popularity in the years to come.