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Rugby museum stirs Bok memories

The faded, almost grey, Bok jersey had been discarded by its previous owner - a farm labourer in South Africa's Western Province was wearing it. It had been handed down in his family for decades before Frederik "Swys" Joubert noticed it, realised its importance as a piece of rugby history and added it to his collection.
Sponsor Castle Lager replaced their logo with brewers Charles Glass' signature for a test match in France, where alcohol advertising is banned.
Sponsor Castle Lager replaced their logo with brewers Charles Glass' signature for a test match in France, where alcohol advertising is banned.
The 1937 jersey was worn by members of the all-conquering Bok team - fondly remembered as the Invincibles - that toured Australasia. With legendary Boks such as Danie Craven and Boy Louw in the squad, they are the only Bok team to have won a series in New Zealand. The find turned out to be even bigger when a faded name tag in the collar revealed the owner to be none other than Philip Nel.

Nel is often called the greatest Springbok, and captained the Invincibles; his jersey is now on display at the Ellis Park Rugby Museum. Opened at Ellis Park Stadium at the beginning of October the museum brings fans rugby's rich history.

Rugby history on show

Originally named Swy's Rugby Museum, the collection, more than 4000 pieces, is largely from Joubert's personal collection. The memorabilia collection includes items from the early days of South African rugby, through to provincial and franchise history and is the largest private collection in the world. The collection has been augmented by donations from Kevin de Klerk, president of the Lions Rugby Union, and former Boks like Frik du Preez. In the short time it has been open, recent and present Boks have promised to contribute their own memorabilia to the collection.

Housed at the Ellis Park VIP entrance, the foyer is an experience in itself. A montage of Golden Lions, past and present, lead you to the museum doors. The collection does not just include artefacts showing the evolution of the game in South Africa; it chronicles the sport as it is played in New Zealand, Argentina, Wales and France. Included in the collection is a rare Springbok jersey from the 2002 Bok tour to France.

"Alcohol advertising is banned in France so the team could not play in their SAB branded jerseys so they had to play in a jersey that said simply 'Charles'; for Charles Glass," explained James Dalton, museum curator.

Pulled together over 50 years, the collection includes caps, jerseys, autographed balls, scarves and art work. Exceptional items include a ball autographed by the entire 1906 Bok team, the first team to embark on a foreign tour, and the first group to be called Springboks; a signed All Black jersey worn by Richie McCaw in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final; and the police helmet worn by the bobby who tackled Twickenham streaker Erica Roe in 1982. At the unveiling Joubert explained that the collection comprises artefacts given to him over the years.

"There are no copies here. Everything you see are originals that were given to me as gifts."

The Bok jersey

A highlight of the exhibition is a display showing the evolution of national jerseys over the decades, from the heavy woollen Springbok jersey of 1906 to the modern high-tech version worn in the last Rugby Championship. Dalton, father of former Springbok hooker James Dalton, invites visitors to touch the jerseys to feel the difference.

"James would bring home jerseys that were so heavy you could barely lift them; these days the rain just slicks right off them."
Dalton has placed the exhibit so the tour, through 100 years of rugby history, ends at past Transvaal Rugby Union president, Jannie le Roux's, restored bar counter. When Ellis Park was revamped for the 2010 Fifa World CupTM, the bar was put into storage. The area is dominated by a portrait of Paul Roos, the first Springbok captain, painted by Wynand Claasen, a former Bok captain. Dalton hopes that it will become a meeting point where fans and players can share a drink and memories.

The museum is now a major attraction at Ellis Park Stadium and is proving a hit with Johannesburg tour operators. Its guest book has visitor entries from countries as diverse as Canada, France and Russia and members of the 1963 All Black team visited recently, all signing the book.

The museum will host 50-plus groups on game days and also hosts school and club teams.

It is open seven days a week from 10am to 3pm. Entrance fees are R 100 per adult and R50 per child.

Dalton is always ready with an anecdote and his knowledge and passion enhances the experience, especially that featuring Bok history's later years. He is a fan who enjoys going in to work and hopes that the museum becomes as big an attraction for others.

"What makes this such a great museum? There's no bells and whistles. People see a picture or a jersey and their memories are jogged. It's about their own personal experience of a game or a player."
Read more: FIFA, Ellis Park, Paul Roos

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