If you ask the All Blacks of the 1990s which Springboks they feared the most you’d probably hear two names mentioned - Henry Honiball for his fearsome tackling and then Mark Andrews for his focused aggression and because…well, because they thought he was a psycho case.
Andrews, who played 77 tests for South Africa between 1994 and 2001, and was the first Bok to reach the half century mark, relates how he was having a conversation with former All Black captain Anton Oliver when they were playing together for a Barbarians team. Andrews’ stellar career was coming to an end, and he was no longer playing international rugby, so for the first time he felt relaxed enough to be friendly with the players who had been his sworn enemies.
“Anton was a really hard bloke on the field, and during some off time when we were having a chat he shocked me a bit by telling me that he was surprised at how likeable I was away from the field,” recalls Andrews.
“He said the All Blacks from his era hated me, they thought I was a psycho.”
According to the former Sharks stalwart and captain, there was good reason why he got that reputation - and he is not going to make any apologies for it now.
“I like to think I was a psycho on the field. If there is one regret, but maybe then it isn’t at all, it was that I never spoke to the opposition when we were at cocktail parties or other functions. I just never mingled with the opposition like other guys did. I’d just give them the death stare.
“My reason for doing it was simple. If I went to speak to Robin Brooke, my direct opponent in so many test matches, I might have found he was a nice guy. I didn’t want that. I wanted to feel the need to hurt him in every game I played against him.”
THE INCIDENT THAT SET THE CAREER NARRATIVE
It all goes back to Andrews’ first match against the All Blacks, the first test of the 1994 series in Dunedin. Andrews is not shy to admit that he experienced something in that match that literally nearly reduced him to a tearful wreck, in which case the rest of his international career may not have happened.
“Rugby was a bit harder in those days because you were allowed to ruck, and because of the conditions they were used to, the Kiwis were the best rucking nation in world rugby,” says the 1995 World Cup winner.
“It was bitterly cold. It felt like it might be minus-3 degrees, when we stood for the anthems I couldn’t feel my fingers. The team we were playing against had some feared human beings. They had Richard Loe, they had Sean Fitzpatrick, they had the two Brooke brothers, Zinzan and Robin, they had Arran Pene, and they were as tough as you could get.
“Anyway, I made a tackle very early in the game and I couldn’t get out of the ruck, and these guys just came over me. Actually saying they came over me is wrong, they just stood on me while they rucked me. I couldn’t get out, and they’d just stand on me and ruck backwards.
“Fortunately the referee eventually blew the whistle and it stopped, but I honestly in that moment felt I was going to die. There were holes in my sock, in my jersey and the old Medac garment, a bit like cycling pants that I wore under my pants, was torn. There was blood. That was my welcome to test matches against the All Blacks.
“I try and tell my kids that there is no shame in feeling scared and I use that moment as my example. I can honestly admit that I felt fear. No, I was terrified. My body was on fire and in that cold, the steel of the studs had really done their business. I felt like crying. It felt like the All Black players were trying to kill me, to maim me.
“Then later in the game I got caught in another ruck and my ankle was sticking out. The referee awarded them a penalty so most of the players started moving to their positions and the referee and linesmen were unsighted. That was when Zinzan Brooke did something I will never forget. He stuck his two back studs into my ankle and twisted. Then when I was trying to get up he leaned over and told me I didn’t deserve to be in the team and was a disgrace to my jersey.”
ZINZAN’S BIG MISTAKE
That was the worst thing anyone could have said to Andrews. Playing for the jersey was what drove him, and had done so from when the ‘playing for the jersey’ ethos had been ingrained in him as a schoolboy at Selborne College in East London.
“During my school days and in my days with Natal it was the jersey that inspired me, it was the focus of my rugby effort. So I knew I couldn’t run away and hide. I had to face up to the responsibility of playing for the Springbok jersey, playing for my country and representing all the people back home. So a light switch went off in my head. From that moment I just wanted to kill Zinzan Brooke and that drive remained with me for the rest of my career.
“Zinzan ended up wearing a big white headguard for most of the second test of that series because his eye got gashed open. That was me. I’m not proud to admit it now, but I flew into one ruck and tried to kill him. I told him he didn’t deserve the jersey. He just laughed.
“But for the rest of my career I wanted to maim him, I wanted to maim or kill Richard Loe, it felt that if I didn’t get them they would get me. Anton was right. I took it off the field with me in that I felt that I would be a hypocrite if I mingled with those guys at cocktail parties. I’ve met many of them post my career and they are indeed nice guys. There are no hard feelings now.”
BEING TOLD OFF IN HIS SENIOR PROVINCIAL DEBUT
When he faced the All Blacks in Dunedin, Andrews had only one test cap, having made his debut in the rousing Bok win over England that managed to square the two match series against Will Carling’s team. Before that he had played as a midweek Bok on his first tour, the trip to Argentina at the end of 1993.
“That first tour in 1993 came at the end of a bit of a whirlwind first year of top class rugby for me,” recalls Andrews.
“I’d started the year playing for Maritzburg Varsity but a sequence of events played into my hands. One of them was the result of someone else’s misfortune. Sean Platford had been one lock in the Sharks’ Currie Cup winning team the year before but he was diagnosed with cancer and had to miss the season. Steve Atherton, one of the other locks, had to see out a contract in Italy before returning.
“So Natal needed a lock and I got my chance in the first match of the year, a friendly against Border at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg. I was partnering Vleis Visagie, who was playing his 100th game for the province. My memory of that game was being **** on by Robert du Preez. Robert wasn’t even the Natal captain, he was just a very intense person.
“I’d been playing club rugby in France before that so I was used to having a bit of freedom. I got into a position where I was able to put boot to ball, something that was allowed of a forward in France. But obviously not for Natal. Robert told me he’d personally stuff me up if I ever kicked the ball again.
“But it was a really great year and playing in a team that had so many Springboks and well known players helped me build confidence. By 1994 I was playing Super 10 and had fully established myself.”
BEING A SPECTATOR AT BATTLE OF TUCUMAN
“Before that though I got my first tour as a Bok, where one of the abiding memories was being a spectator at the infamous ‘Battle of Tucuman’.
“That was quite a night. Myself and Andre Joubert were together on the grandstand with the supporters before the game when this five year old laaitie came across to us. He swore at us: ‘F- you yankie!’ I couldn’t believe my ears. Then he ran back to his parents, who were evidently very pleased with him for what he’d done. They high fived him.
“Soon everyone was swearing at us, and then when the game kicked off there was a major fight. A beer can flew from somewhere in the crowd and hit Juba (Joubert) on the head. So Juba stands up and challenges the guy who threw it. We then realised how outnumbered we were. The Argentine fans just wanted to fight. Fortunately a policeman came across and escorted us away from the stands and down onto the touchline, which was protected from the grandstand by a five metre mesh fence, something else I have never seen at a rugby ground.
“I had played in France, where massed brawls were standard, at least one a game, but that night’s onfield fight was something else. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.
SO NEARLY BECAME A MOUNTAIN GOAT
Andrews ended up playing more than 150 games for the Sharks but it could so easily have been the other big South African coastal team, Western Province, that he could have played for instead.
“My other big sport at school was waterpolo. I played both waterpolo and rugby for South African Schools, and I played Masters polo for a few years, together with another former Bok Ollie le Roux, after I retired. I was more talented at rugby, but waterpolo was my passion. When I went to Stellenbosch after school I thought I was on a waterpolo and rugby scholarship. But it turned out to just be rugby.
“I had a fall out in my first year with the Maties under-21 coach, who told me that English speaking people have always had it easy, and if he had a choice he’d always choose an Afrikaans speaker ahead of an English speaking guy because Afrikaners had more backbone. I was playing Maties under-21 B at the time, the only time ever in my life that I was in a B team, and I was desperate to get into the A team.
“After the coach said what he did I knew I had no chance of making it into the A side and that was when I decided to leave Stellenbosch. Ironically, the very week I made the decision and committed to going to play club rugby in France, something organised for me by my cousin Keith, I was selected onto the bench of the Western Province under-21 team. Had it not been for what the coach said to me I probably would have ended up becoming a WP mountain goat and not a Shark.”
RWC 1995 WAS BITTER SWEET
You’d imagine that the 1995 World Cup, where Andrews ended up getting proper revenge on the All Blacks who’d trampled him in Dunedin the year before, would be his career highlight. He says it wasn’t.
“That 1994 series was tough and the whole tour was tough, but I learned a lot from it, and then I went on the end of year tour to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, where I did well and started to back myself,” said Andrews.
“My confidence was getting stronger and I was coming into my own. So when that World Cup came around I really wanted to prove that I belonged among the world’s top locks of the time. I didn’t start well against Australia, where myself and James Dalton missed each other in the lineouts, but by the time we got to the knock-outs I was playing well.
“It was then that the coach, Kitch Christie, dropped the bombshell. He was selecting me at No8. I hadn’t played No8 since I was under-15. That period was just so stressful for me to be enjoyable. I was expected to still jump in the lineouts like I was a lock and play at the kick-offs like a lock, but I had to adjust my game to fit into the big defensive requirements of a No8. I essentially had to learn a whole new game in five days. I was completely out of my comfort zone.
“I’ve never been so stressed in my entire life. I remember being on the bus on the way to the final when I saw a newspaper billboard which asked the question ‘Will Andrews cost us the final?’ That is a hell of a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old to deal with.”
BOKS BEAT THEMSELVES IN 1999
After being part of the slump that followed that World Cup for the Boks due partly to the fall-out over the Bok contracting model that was formulated to combat a rebel movement bidding to take over professional rugby and partly to the coaching appointments made - he was no fan of Carel du Plessis - Andrews entered the 1999 World Cup year hopeful that he would get to experience proper joy this time around.
“At the end of Carel’s stint myself, Gary Teichmann, Henry Honiball and Andre Joubert had officially retired. We’d resolved that we didn’t want to play for South Africa again until there was a new coach so that we could do justice to the Bok jersey,” Andrews recalls.
“When Nick Mallett took over he flew to Durban and met us at a beachfront hotel, where he convinced us to play on. He told us the Boks needed us, and he put on a good sell. So we agreed to play again. And for the first part of his reign as coach Nick was brilliant. And we as a team responded to him. By the end of 1998 I felt we had the makings of a team that could retain the World Cup, and we went into 1999 with a lot of confidence.
“I have absolutely no doubt that had Nick retained the formula that had been successful before, we would have won the 1999 World Cup. The All Blacks weren’t great at that point; neither were Australia; England didn’t amount to much; and France were inconsistent.
“When he dropped Gary Teichmann as captain it was a big setback. I look back at 1999 with massive frustration and regret. We had the best side going into that World Cup and dropping Teich was a big mistake. I really believe we would have won that World Cup had he been retained as captain.”
SO WHERE IS MARK ANDREWS NOW:
“Believe it or not, I am not farming. I do have farming in my blood, and it was my father’s dream that I would farm. I was the one boy in the family who had an interest in farming. As you know I was brought up on the family farm in Elliot in the Eastern Cape. My plan was that after my rugby career ended I would go back and farm, and when I made money out of rugby I bought a farm.
“But the plan changed. Maybe I just spent too much time in the city, maybe it was the jump in my earnings from when we were still amateurs, but I soon realised I wasn’t going to go and farm. I didn’t feel I would make enough from farming and sold my farm seven years ago.
“We had a couple of family farms, which was really one big farm making up a whole valley. My brothers inherited two of the farms and after my rugby career I went into business. My working life is in Durban, and I have a house there. But my home is East London. Myself and a friend that I was at school with and who is now in the property business purchased a piece of land near Gonubie, overlooking the river. We sold off stands to family and friends. It is an incredible piece of land and that is where I am now. It is a good place to spend lockdown. It’s like a smallholding, but close enough to town.
“I consider myself a migrant worker. I work in Durban, live here. My kids are at school in KZN, my boys are attending Kearsney College. My children have inherited my love for waterpolo more than my love for rugby. My one son has already played for the KZN men’s side and played provincial schools at all age-group levels.”
By Gavin Rich
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