Gareth Williams of the Lions congratulates Errol Tobias of the South African Barbarians after the tour match at Kings Park on 2 July 1980

The name of Errol Tobias will forever go down as one of the most important and poignant in South Africa’s rugby history. In a country so long affected by race and skin colour, Tobias was the first non-white man to represent the Springboks and this week shared his memories with Total Rugby.

His mental journey to that day in Cape Town on 30 May 1981 began in his home town of Caledon back in 1962 when, as a 12-year old, he was walking through town with his younger brother.

“We were on our way to collect some firewood and the kids were practicing rugby and we stopped to have a look at them and one kid dropped the ball and of course it was white kids,” Tobias told Total Rugby.

“The teacher said ‘you will never become a Springbok if you can't catch and pass,’ and my brother Alan looked at me and said, ‘in that case Errol, you are a Springbok’.

“I didn't know that according to the laws I would not be allowed to play for South Africa but I kept on thinking that if I can catch and pass I can become a Springbok.”

Prodigious talent 

Tobias had all the skills in the world and his prodigious talent earned him a place on tour with both the English and South African Barbarians. The trips opened his eyes to a very different world, without the crippling constraints of apartheid, and the form he showed both abroad and when back at home led to the call for the national side in 1981.

“I remember sitting in the cloakroom before running out onto the paddock and I said to myself 'Errol you must remember, just focus, catch and pass, focus, catch and pass.' I remember that and that's what I will treasure with me until my last days.”

South Africa's sporting isolation meant that he had to wait three years until his next cap but when England toured in 1984 Tobias was at the peak of his powers and the Bok selectors recognised that his talents at fly half could allow them to broaden their outlook on the pitch. Tobias was selected and South Africa duly won both tests with ease.

“My dad said to me, 'Errol if you get a chance to play for South Africa and you are just being allowed to play 20 minutes and you get injured, that  20 minutes must be of such a high standard that whoever was at that rugby match must remember you for a lifetime.”

Tobias’ six caps yielded six victories for the Springboks and in winning those caps his place in rugby’s hall of fame is forever assured.

Abridged from Total Rugby. Watch and listen to the full feature on the TV show worldwide from Wednesday, and on the radio show from Thursday. See above for distribution and reach details.

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