Fergie McCormick Seriously Ill.
It was back in 1970.
The 8th of August, 1970, to be precise.
Newlands, Cape Town.
A muddy, rainy winter’s afternoon.
The Springboks were playing the All Blacks.
My first ever Springboks All Blacks Test match.
I had seen the French, in Bloemfontein. The English too. My class teacher at the time, Springbok centre Eben Olivier, had toured Great Britain and Ireland with the Springboks in ’69. He had told us stories about being on that “demo” tour.
Test match rugby was at the top end of our fan-scale.
But this was the All Blacks! Suddenly none of the others counted, the All Blacks were the traditional enemy, the real deal. This was the team all Springbok supporters respected a lot, and feared just a little.
The All Blacks!
The Springboks had won the first Test up in Pretoria by 17 points to 6.
Newlands hosted the second Test, and the All Blacks wanted revenge for that loss in Pretoria.
And I was there! Cold, wet, sitting behind the northern posts with my brother, envying my father and grandfather cossetted in the dry seats of the lower gallery of the main grandstand.
It was, for me, a great Test match, with the All Blacks winning 9 – 8 when the final whistle sounded.
I do not actually remember much of the rugby that was played that day. 48 years is a long time ago! But the one memory that remains with me to this day is the moment when Syd Nomis, one of the great Springbok wings, was felled by All Black fullback, Fergie McCormick.
Nomis had kicked the ball over McCormick’s head and tried to run around him. McCormick spun around, and hit Nomis in the mouth with his elbow, knocking out two teeth and loosening several others. Referee Wynand Malan, a dentist, straightened Nomis’ teeth on the field. Although he had lost consciousness briefly, Nomis stayed on to finish the game with a bleeding mouth. He later described the test as “the dirtiest game of rugby I have ever seen or been involved in”.
Some newspapers claimed that the film of that incident proved that the contact was accidental. There was no television coverage on the game back then, so nobody could comment. Access to the film footage was not readily available.
You can, thanks to modern technology and that thing called Youtube, view the clip of that moment by clicking on the video link at the top of this page.
Nomis still dismisses the claim, pointing out that in McCormick’s autobiography the fullback said that he would have done anything to stop Nomis.
The Springboks targeted McCormick in the third test, played at Boet Erasmus Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Nomis kicked the ball high up onto McCormick, and two loose forwards and a prop, Jan Ellis, Piet Greyling, and Hannes Marais, chased the kick with murderous intent, all three hit him at the same time.
Later in the Test, Nomis and McCormick also came to blows, with Nomis punching McCormick several times before being stopped by the referee. For the fourth test, at Ellis Park, Nomis was provided with a gum guard to protect his damaged teeth, which had been reinserted into his mouth. Nomis believes that he may have pioneered the use of gum guards by rugby players.
That series, and that incident, are part of rugby history now, a memory of a different age in the game. Old animosities have been buried, and the opponents of the old days are the friends of today.
Sadly, we must report that Fergie McCormick is in a serious condition in hospital.
Friends of the 78-year-old former All Black have said that his condition is serious but he is remaining upbeat.
McCormick, who lives in Springston, New Zealand, has throat cancer. He was admitted to Christchurch Hospital last Tuesday.
McCormick played 16 matches for the All Blacks and holds the record for the most games for Canterbury at 222.
We wish Fergie well as he fights the disease that has come into his life. He was a great rugby player, no matter the incident with Nomis, and was a credit to the game throughout his long career.